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Giving with dignity to those in need

BY FEED NOVA SCOTIA

When you give with heart, people feel it deeply, and they remember it.

A mom of seven children once received a 30-pound turkey from a farmer in her community. By chance, the two got to meet at her local food bank and the exchange stuck with her. “There are people out there looking out for their own livelihood, but still want to help others. It’s hard to put into words what that means.”

That gift provided dinner, but also a meaningful moment of connection and of feeling valued and supported.

Charity isn’t the solution to food insecurity, but until we change the system, there are still opportunities to provide dignity within it.

What goes out on our trucks and, at the end of the day, what people will have to eat, is largely determined by the food donations we receive. The power is in the hands of the community, who can provide comfort and hope to someone struggling. And we’re really lucky to witness many people who make this connection. Whether it’s someone who thoughtfully picked out the most nutrient-rich food items to donate, or someone else who brought in all gluten-free products after realizing how difficult it must be to access diet-specific items at a food bank. People genuinely want to make a difference. And when they aren’t sure how, they ask.

But we still have work to do. We still encounter “beggars can’t be choosers” attitudes. People still ask if we accept food that’s well beyond a respectful and safe best-before date. We still see calls for folks to spring clean their cupboards and donate the findings. It’s not surprising food charity is sometimes described as leftover food for left-behind people. When we expect someone to make a meal of a can of bamboo shoots and crackers, we’re sending a very clear message—that it’s not good enough for me, but it’s good enough for you. And for a marginalized person, that sentiment isn’t new.

Donors are often removed from the people who benefit from their support in the food banking world. If that weren’t the case, would it change how some give? Would someone still make the trip to donate poor quality food if they were handing it directly to someone relying on them to eat that day?

We should give like everyone deserves safe, nutritious food—because they do. Hunger and poverty are isolating. Those who struggle to put food on the table are often up against systems (and people) that question their choices and public judgments that chip away at their resolve. Providing a quality meal for someone in need is incredibly meaningful. It says, “I see you. I see that you’re hurting and I want to help.” Food connects us.

Give with intention. Provide protein-rich foods. Donate items to make complete meals—things you would want to sit down to eat with your own family. Think about kids’ snacks for lunches or healthy foods for a school breakfast program. Ask your local food bank what they’re low on, or if there are any specific items they need. Donate funds to allow an organization flexibility. Volunteer to regularly cook meals at a soup kitchen. Advocate for system-level change.

In a just society, everyone would have the means to make their own choices and provide food for themselves and their families, avoiding this discussion altogether. And we’ll dig deeper into the critical need for change in future columns. But while we’re on this long, hard journey to unravel a system many have come to accept, let’s give, or continue to give, with dignity.


Feed Nova Scotia provides this biweekly column about food insecurity in Nova Scotia. Reach them atcommunications@feednovascotia.ca

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