CBC News

What's for dinner at the food bank?

Kevin Yarr

By Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca

Ham and potato scallop, Jamaican rice and peas perhaps?

And a lot of Kraft Dinner.

I went to visit the food bank in Charlottetown the other day. I've often been on the giving end, but never hung around to see where those donations end up. Manager Mike MacDonald was happy to show me around.

It's a small building. With a food drive on, it's starting to fill up with cans and boxes this time of year. In late summer, there is a lot of fresh produce donated: some from farmers, some from backyard gardeners.

"You get a lot of zucchini. Usually the clients are sick of them by the time they're done. We're pushing [the zucchini] on them pretty good," said MacDonald.

Five days of food for a family of four, courtesy of the food bank (Kevin Yarr/CBC)

This is one of the hard facts of the food bank: you don't get much in the way of choice. The volunteers pack a box for you once a month and, for the most part, you have to find a way to deal with what's in it. You might get a choice of coffee or tea, and allergies are taken into account, but with just a few volunteers filling boxes for 75 or more clients in a morning, there isn't a lot of time to discuss preferences.

The first hard fact, of course, is that you might have to make a visit at all. MacDonald hears regularly from new clients that they walked past the building three or four times before going in. Workers at the food bank do their best to make people comfortable, but seeing people too much at ease can lead to mixed feelings.

"It's just not right that somebody feels that comfortable coming in," said MacDonald, noting that comfort with the food bank generally only comes with years of practice. There is a sad story behind that comfort.

So, what is for dinner? I had them pack up a box for my family — two adults, a 14- and a seven-year-old — just to see what would be in it.

Currently supplies are good, and they are packing for five days instead of the minimum three.

It's a fairly small box, a banana box I think, but staffers pack quite a load of stuff into it. Much of it is food I would never buy myself, like canned ham or Dream Whip. I'm sure that's a common experience, generating a what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this feeling mixed in with the relief of having some food in the house.

MacDonald said there is little time to help clients with that. A few years ago when zucchini was especially plentiful, they generated a sheet with some recipes on it that was much appreciated.

What could I make with my box? There's a bag of potatoes (this is P.E.I.) — the only fresh produce. Added to the ham, it might become a potato scallop. With a seven-year-old, I might get some milk. Maybe put the canned mushrooms in. I would have to buy my own onions.

My idea for Jamaican rice and peas is a stretch. I have a two-kilogram bag of rice and a can of black-eyed peas. There is thyme growing wild in my front yard, but I don't have any coconut milk. I guess I would have to go with a very bland version.

There's a box of chicken broth, so maybe I could drum up something like a risotto. However, a better description would likely be chicken-flavoured rice, since there's not much else to put in it.

Already my creativity begins to fail me.

There's spaghetti and tomato sauce. There are five boxes of Kraft Dinner, plus a few bags of the sauce mix without the pasta.

Beyond dinner there is a box of cereal, eggs, granola bars and other items for school snacks. Maybe that canned ham will just go to sandwiches.

The box is not devoid of treats. There's two small bags of candy for the kids, smoked mussels and a tiny can of lobster pâté (this is P.E.I.). Perhaps a lobster omelette one night, just for Mum and Dad?

There are other items that are simply frustrating: a taco kit, Shake’n Bake for fish. If I have money for ground beef and fish, am I going to the food bank? MacDonald notes however that if something comes in, it is going to go out. It's not doing anyone any good on their shelves.

What do you think makes a good donation to the food bank?

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Very interesting to see the other side of a food bank.

Do food banks have a list of appropriate food to give to a food bank? In the past I've just considered non-parishables without thought for how the food might go together. A list of useful items would be helpful.

Posted December 5, 2008 06:08 PM



I bring things I would like to eat and combine them so that they make a meal - rice, beans, vegetable soups, canned fruits and veggies...things like that.

Posted December 6, 2008 06:24 AM



I think that you did an excellent job on this FOOD Bytes.

Posted December 7, 2008 08:17 PM



I scrolled through the food bank 5 day selections.
I think most of us just turn away and try and forget there are people who rely on this sort of a supply for their food. I really cannot believe it in our modern society, especially Canada.
Let's not hold another federal election, let's bring home the troops from Afghanistan, let's stop sending money and supplies to 3rd world countries for just 1 year .... you'd find that the food banks could be closed as there would be more than enough money from the few things I mentioned. Perhaps even housing for the poor in Canada.

Posted December 8, 2008 10:51 AM



The food bank perpetuates poverty as the government of Bc king Campbell does not have to give money to the poor.

Those living in poverty receive whatever the public decide be it a can of beans or a box of Kraft dinner, what is generally given is what the people will not eat themselves.

Increased welfare rates or better yet a gauranteed annual income ie really the answer but British Columbians would rather foot the bill for the Olympics, rather than help thier fellow man.

Talk in BC is cheap as it has been going on for years, this self centered province brags of it's beauty and yet i see none on the streets. I see countless homeless people going about garbage bins, begging on the streets.
The have province with have nots living at the level of animals which are taken care of by far better than a human biengs.

This xmas as in the past families will gather and the feast will commence after which gawdy toys and electronic goodies will be passed out.

The poor on the other hand will be lucky to feast on a chicken, toys for children will be toys from china that no one would give thier children.

The government of BC has the responsibility for the highest children living in poverty and yet we say nothing, the day raidly approaches when those who live in luxary will find out when the economy collapses what a can of tulip tastes like at xmas..............

For the sake of your fellow man do something and that something is getting on the case of the BC government.............please!

Posted December 12, 2008 11:41 PM



Good donations? Rice, beans, cans of pretty much anything (fruit, veggies, beans of various kinds, tuna). Dried legumes, bags of dried fruit or nuts. Bags of pasta. Bags of dried milk. Cans of evaporated milk. Juice. Spices, even. You can make a pretty good soup with rice, lentils, a couple of carrots and an onion, but add a couple of spices? Yum.

Posted December 13, 2008 07:26 PM


Good donations are brown rice, whole wheat pasta,vegetables and canned meat and fish. As a mom who could not afford to feed my 3 kids years ago the only food that made sense was food with some kind of nutritional value to it. Not Kraft Dinner or other "fill the hole " food. You are very appreciative for food to feed your kids when you don't have any. I always make sure to give good healthy food that will feed a brain and a body.

Posted December 23, 2008 03:46 PM



Let me get this straight, I purchase items off the shelf at my grocery store to donate to the Food Bank. Those items were delivered by manufacturers/distributors to my grocery store and unpacked and stocked neatly, and by category, on the shelf by paid store clerks. My purchase gets dumped into a bin and mixed with assorted items and then carted off to the Food Bank where it is resorted for distribution by volunteers who need cars and bus transportation to get to the Food Bank Warehouse location. Isn’t this a lot of unnecessary work? Just what is the purpose of all this extra suffrage? Why does the Canadian Government believe that it is the duty of people, like myself, to provide for the hungry in Canada? Food and shelter for the people of Canada is the responsibility of the Government. Tell our MP’s and MPP’s to loosen their purse strings and increase the Welfare benefit. Why not use Food Ration Coupons instead and stop this ridiculous practice of food distribution to the needy.

Posted November 25, 2009 11:49 AM

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Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.


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