Feeding Surrey’s hungry

Job loss and unaffordable housing remain concerns for one of the fastest growing regions in the country

Dozens of people walk into a warehouse-style building in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood. It’s late Thursday morning and most of them have one thing in common – they’re carrying totes or wheeling carts behind them.

They’re coming to use a service that was meant to be a ‘temporary solution to a temporary problem’ when it was established 34 years ago – but decades later, the Surrey Food Bank still serves 14,000 people per month.

In B.C., the number of food bank users has grown by 33 per cent. That keeps B.C. with the third highest number of food bank users in the country, something that a Food Banks Canada report released Tuesday notes could be due to B.C. being the only province with no poverty reduction strategy.

WATCH: Why Fern Fennell volunteers

Surrey Food Bank executive director Marilyn Herrmann said the number of customers has fluctuated over the years, though it’s hard to track, but it certainly hasn’t dropped.

“The challenging thing is that that people don’t necessarily use the food bank for long periods of time. It’s temporary and short-term – maybe they’ve lost their job, maybe they’re waiting for EI, they don’t have family they can turn to for support,” she said.

While clients can use the Surrey food bank every two weeks, most of them only use it one to five times per year.

Herrmann is happy with that irregularity. Anything else, she believes, isn’t the best case use.

“We’re an emergency service. We’re here to support but not to feed people over long periods of time,” she said.

“People leave here with three to four days worth of food – people are thinking we’re giving [our clients] two weeks of food and we wouldn’t even be able to begin to do that, nor is that our role.”

When clients come in for the first time, they get asked one particular question: “What has to change in your life for you not to need the food bank?”

The hope is that when circumstance change, the clients can go back to being self-sufficient.

“We get three answers – ‘I need affordable housing,’ ‘I need more more money’ and ‘I wouldn’t need you if I had affordable daycare,’” said Herrmann, adding that most people coming in are the working poor.

A never-ending fight against hunger

With the ongoing crisis in Syria, Surrey has become the home for thousands of refugees. According to Food Banks Canada, nearly 1,700 have been relocated to the Lower Mainland and nearly half of those ended up in Surrey. Canada-wide, refugees make up 13 per cent of food bank users.

A Food Banks Canada report cites a 17-per-cent increase in demand for food bank services in Surrey, and attributes much of that to new refugees, but Herrmann said the city’s already quickly growing multicultural population has made it easier to absorb the newcomers.

“Certainly language is an issue but if you think about it, anytime you go somewhere new it takes time before you feel part of that community.”

“They’re incredibly well-educated – I know right now of a doctor and a dentist who are looking for truck driving jobs because they can’t practice here – so we’re very sensitive of that. I don’t know when somebody walks through our doors what has happened in their life.”

WATCH: Why people come to the food bank

Helping kids get a good start

More than one-tenth of food bank clients are under age six. That’s inspired the Surrey branch to start three services for pregnant women, babies, toddlers and pre-kindergarten aged kids – Tiny Bundles, Toddler Totes and Pre-K.

“Once they get into the school systems, there’s wonderful breakfast programs and there’s support there, but that first four years is pretty dependent upon the family,” said Herrmann.

The food bank used to rely on donations for formula and hand it out to moms when they had it.

“In my early days here, a mum came in with her little one, begging for formula. I didn’t have any and she went away crying. She cried and I cried because what was she going to do now? It’s expensive to buy formula,” said Herrmann.

She related that story to the board of directors.

“They said, ‘Don’t let that happen again.’”

 

@katslepian

katya.slepian@pbdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

South Surrey Spirit Garden to host Solstice Stroll

Candlelight event to begin at 8 p.m. June 22

The struggle for space inside Surrey’s elementary schools

SECOND IN A SERIES: A look at how overcrowding impacts student life

VIDEO: 5X Festival takes over Surrey’s Central City plaza

Second annual event draws thousands of people throughout the day

Semiahmoo First Nation opens cannabis dispensary

Indigenous Bloom partners with First Nations

City shifts proposed transit station to King George after cancellation of LRT

Council to consider Newton Town Centre plan in fall

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

Parents of BC murder victim want personal belongings returned

Lisa Dudley’s parents, Rosemarie and Mark Surakka, were at the Mission RCMP detachment Sunday

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

Pride flag taken down by Township of Langley

Woman said she was told it was removed from her front yard because of a complaint

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

Most Read