A look back at Canada’s first food bank

Jan. 15, 2021
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In 1981, the Edmonton Gleaners Association, more commonly known as Edmonton’s Food Bank, was established to solve two issues: hunger was affecting the lives of many people served by local non-profit organizations and edible food was being wasted in the community. There was a desire to establish a channel to glean surplus food from the food industry to help those experiencing food insecurity. Since then, the Food Bank has been providing food to soup kitchens, shelters, schools, and other community groups along with individuals and families needing food help. The Food Bank collects food from grocery stores, the general public, the food industry, and at community events to feed those in need within our city.

From its humble beginnings in the Prince of Wales Armouries to an established warehouse, Edmonton’s Food Bank feeds over 20,000 Edmontonians each month while supplying food to soup kitchens and shelters like Hope Mission and the Mustard Seed.

“Each and every day, we are working with our partners and community groups to distribute quality, nutritious food to those in need,” said Marjorie Bencz, CM, Executive Director of Edmonton’s Food Bank. “Continuing the work to reduce the causes of hunger is essential. Despite all the changes in the world, we still envision a community where hunger does not exist, where everyone has access to an adequate and nutritious supply of food.”

Throughout the year, we will add videos to this article illustrating how Canada’s first food bank has impacted people and our community. These stories serve as inspiration and documentation of the accomplishments of our community and the positive impacts of our 40-year journey. It is thanks to donations from the community that we have weathered the dynamics of economic booms, busts, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Donors, volunteers, businesses, and community partners have supported Edmonton’s Food Bank through donations of food, funds and time to feed our neighbours.

Please note that portions of these videos were recorded prior to COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta.

EFB40

EFB40

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Chapter One - Inception

Prior to the organization’s inception, an ad-hoc committee was formed out of the Marian Centre made up of local agency members including Mike Fagan, Bob McKeon, and Francis Lopez. They began investigating the possibility of establishing a food bank to serve agencies located in the inner city. Bob McCarty from Phoenix, Arizona gave this fledgling group a weekend workshop on food banks.

From there, Edmonton’s Food Bank evolved through different spaces including five rooms in the Prince of Wales Armouries (1981-1986), a closed Safeway store at 9020 Jasper Avenue (1986-1989), a warehouse facility at 10218 111 Street (1989-2004), a warehouse facility on 120 Street (2004-present) in addition to the Annex building on 120 Street (2014-present).

We were able to speak to a few members from the committee at the Marian Centre to share their stories of leadership.

Food Bank Inception

Food Bank Inception

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A long time volunteer and friend of Edmonton's Food Bank, Janet Hughes was part of the group that started the organization in 1981. She served as the board chair for about 25 years where she saw the Food Bank grow into a large operation. Janet was previously involved at Operation Friendship where she helped work on the Pioneer Place project; a 175 unit apartment building responding to housing needs for seniors. As her son Doug puts it, she was always involved in doing a lot to help other people. So he said it was no surprise that she wanted to take more of an active role with the Food Bank. Since 2000, the Janet Hughes Award has been presented in recognition of a person who has contributed to lessening food insecurity in Edmonton. Janet passed away on January 20, 2019. Before she passed, we sat down with her and she shared her story of leadership.

Story of Leadership - Janet Hughes

Story of Leadership - Janet Hughes

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Chapter Three - Clients

One of our stories of hope is about Hani Barzagar, Mehdi Barzagar, and Moe Barzagar. They immigrated to Canada when they were young kids, and their family sought support from the Food Bank. As adults, they've given back by doing what they do best: construction and maintenance through their company, HIBCO Construction.

Story of Hope - Barzagar Brothers

Story of Hope - Barzagar Brothers

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Chapter Four - Volunteers

One memorable leader was Doug Hughes, the son of the late Janet Hughes. He said his mother was a positive influence on his desire to get involved with various organizations such as WeCan and Paper Chase. Doug has volunteered with Edmonton’s Food Bank as a board chair on the Board of Directors and at events such as the Heritage Festival. Doug recalls a volunteer appreciation dinner as an eye-opening moment with the Food Bank, where he was overwhelmed by the turnout and pure enthusiasm of the volunteers. Going forward, he’s excited to get back to volunteering on a regular basis in the warehouse or at events. In the meantime, we sat down with Doug at his law firm in downtown Edmonton for this story of leadership.

Story of Hope - Doug Hughes

Story of Hope - Doug Hughes

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