Volunteer food bank that feeds thousands in Winnipeg at risk of shutting down
TORONTO -- Winnipeg’s Bear Clan Patrol, a group that walks the streets to help curb crime, has taken to offering fresh produce in its downtown headquarters.
For years, the safety group has helped keep the inner city safe. Now it’s helping its neighbourhood’s most vulnerable citizens by tackling food scarcity – but it says it needs help to keep doing that.
The makeshift food bank is situated in Winnipeg's North End neighbourhood, which has only a few big grocers. People looking for affordable fresh food is common in an area where the poverty and unemployment rates are among some of the highest in the nation.
“You can get crack pipes and bongs in our corner stores, but you can't get fresh produce,” James Favel, who restarted the Winnipeg Bear Clan Patrol in 2015, told CTV News.
One of the people at the food bank, Grant Graham, lamented that he doesn't have enough money to cover his expenses. “I'm on Old Age [Security] and it's not like we get a lot,” he told CTV News.
Favel saw a growing need as his group patrolled the street. He said people asking for help with safety issues tended to also ask for food.
He and other volunteers now carry fresh fruit in their backpacks, which also contain First Aid kits and biohazard containers for used needles.
The Bear Clan Patrol describes itself as a group of volunteers offering “personal security in the inner city in a non-threatening, non-violent and supportive way.” The organization began in 1992, but following a hiatus was reestablished four years ago as part of a movement to make the streets safer for Indigenous people after the murder of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine.
The safety group, which boasts 1,500 volunteers across 35 other Canadian communities, was also in the spotlight in July after members travelled to remote Manitoba communities to help with the search for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, who were at the time wanted in connection with three murders.
GROUP FEEDS 5,600 PEOPLE A MONTH
The group's original mission has ballooned into the creation of the daily food bank, which feeds approximately 5,600 people each month.
Favel says the evolution of the group was natural because “our role in the community keeps growing … when they (the community) has a need and we can't address one day, we make sure we can the next time we see them.”
Donors, including some big grocery chains, are giving food that would otherwise be thrown out. But a new problem is now testing the group.
Last year, it spent close to $60,000 to run the food program. This year will be more expensive, and the organization is running out of room to store all the food. As a result, the Bear Clan Patrol is asking for financial help.
Joyce Slater, who teaches at the University of Manitoba’s Department of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences, co-authored a report on the group’s food bank model.
The community nutrition expert said the clan is providing a necessary service but needs help.
“And you know this is going to lower health care costs. One of the main concerns in that community … is Type 2 diabetes and that's related to what people eat,” she said.
The group said it will continue to find a way to support its community as long as the need exists.