Without help, people living in B.C.'s 'food deserts' face 'very bleak' nutrition
Food banks serve people who might otherwise land on the wrong side of the 'food gap'
Joyce Kennay, 79, makes her way around the tables covered in food at the Surrey Food Bank. Toward the end, the bags on her cart are nearly filled, and a volunteer has to awkwardly pull some of the stuff out to avoid crushing it with a heavy bag of dog food.
With the groceries sorted in a way that will ensure they all get home undamaged, Kennay smiles, thanks the volunteers and makes her way to the door.
She stops by the food bank every two weeks — always timing her visits with the bi-monthly seniors day.
"It's just a blessing to have extra food to rely on and to socialize with people," said Kennay.
She — along with many of the clients at the Surrey Food Bank — risk falling on the wrong side of the "food gap."
The term has come to refer to the growing gulf between people who have access to healthy, fresh meals, and those who don't.
"There's a lot of people in our city, in our community that can't afford to access fresh food, fresh vegetables, dairy products — even the non-perishable items," said Feezah Jaffer, executive director of the Surrey Food Bank.
"So the food bank really helps to bridge the gap between people who cannot afford food and those who can," she said.
According to Jaffer, one of the key causes of the food gap is what's known as food deserts — areas where the only accessible food isn't especially nutritious. What's available may be fast food, processed food from a convenience store, or other stuff that's high in fat and sodium.
Perhaps there are grocery stores in the area, but many people can't afford to shop there, opting for something less expensive.
"They don't have access to farms, they don't do in-home gardening, especially those who are on low income, or working full time, and just trying to make ends meet," said Jaffer of people on the wrong side of the food gap.
The Surrey Food Bank focuses on providing lots of fresh produce, said Jaffer, and especially on seniors day, low-sodium, high-protein items.
For Jim, 75, who asked not to have his surname used, the Surrey Food Bank is also serving as another type of bridge. He doesn't think too much about the concept of the food gap, but he's able to bridge the span between his pension cheques.
"I come and I use it twice a month, and it's for basic necessities, and as a senior we don't get a lot of money, so we have to come here," he said.
Jim, who has diabetes, retired after 18 years working for Canada Post, but he still relies on the food bank to get basic groceries like carrots and potatoes.
Like Jim, Kennay hasn't thought much about the terms food gap or food desert when she considers her needs — though she said the ideas resonate with her. Asked what her nutrition would look like without the food bank, she says it wouldn't look good.
"Very bleak, very bleak. This really helps out a lot in every aspect," she said.
On their way out the door, Kennay, Jim and the hundreds of other elderly clients are offered a warm pizza lunch, but Kennay is already looking forward to her next visit, when she said they'll have "a Christmas dinner, turkey, the whole works."
CBC British Columbia is holding its 33rd annual Open House and Food Bank fundraiser on Friday Dec. 6, 2019. You can visit or call in to donate then, or go to cbc.ca/openhouse.