British Columbia

Food bank finds success by not giving out any food

Instead of having users visit a warehouse or other facility and picking up stored items, Operation Sharing in Woodstock, On., give users gift cards so they can buy their own food at grocery stores.

Operation Sharing in Woodstock, On., gives users gift cards so they can buy their own food

A volunteer sorts through some of that donations given to the Surrey Food Bank. Would gift cards be a better way of feeding food bank users? (CBC)

A Woodstock, Ont., food bank says by giving clients gift cards instead of donated food, they are taking some of the stigma out of food bank use.

Instead of having users visit a warehouse or other facility and picking up stored items, Operation Sharing gives users gift cards so they can buy their own food at grocery stores.

Operation Sharing board vice-chair John Klein-Geltink says the cards can be used at several participating grocery stores. The cards are paid for by donations made at the cash registers of those grocery stores.

"When people have the opportunity and they're used to cooking in a certain manner, they can make it go quite far," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"It gives people the dignity to shop for themselves and we don't need to have a big warehouse to store food. All we need is a small office space that we can interview people with … it gives people the opportunity to buy fresh produce, dairy products and stuff like that that's not always readily available at a traditional food bank."

Klein-Geltink says the value of the cards is between $30 and $70 depending on the size of the family using it, and they can be re-loaded every six weeks. About 300 families use the cards every month.

Laura Lansink, executive director of Food Banks B.C., says she isn't aware of any food banks with a program like Operation Sharing, but she says the core problem food banks are grappling with isn't delivery.

"The bottom line is people don't want to have to rely on charity to have to feed themselves and their family," she said. "There's an underlying problem, and that's people simply don't have enough money to buy food for themselves."

Lansink did say, however, she was willing to look at any food bank programs outside B.C. finding success.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


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