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Full Bellies, Happy Hearts

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Hunger can be found on any street, in any neighborhood and at any time.

And during the summer months, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region is calling on the community to come together as they launch the season long campaign, “Full Bellies, Happy Hearts”.

The goal is to raise half a million meals by Aug. 31st.

“Leading up to and during the summer months. we experience a significant drop in donations,” says Wendi Campbell, CEO of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

“A lot of kids will have access to school breakfasts as well as lunch and snack programs but not in the summer months. Needs shift and this can put a lot of stress on some families. We are asking the community to keep this in mind along their travels this summer.”

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is asking the community to come together to help the 34,408 people – 35 per cent who are children – accessing food assistance in Waterloo Region this year. That’s almost 6% of the whole Regional population that needs our help!

The non-profit, registered charity, began operations in 1984 as a short-term solution to the challenge of obtaining enough food for the unemployed.

Aligned Insurance supports the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, PHOTO: Barbara Geernaert

The first of its kind in the province, it began with one staff member and a Mennonite Central Committee Voluntary Service Worker, serving five agencies out of the House of Friendship Hostel in Kitchener.

And since then, it has become a renowned community-based organization which continues to build effective partnerships within Waterloo Region.

Located at 50 Alpine Ct. in Kitchener, it works in collaboration with over 100 member agencies and community food programs to help provide food for the needy.

“No matter where you live in the region, there is a program that can be accessed,” Campbell says. “We also have programs in each township in the region. For example, Woolwich Community Centre taps into the network as well.”

According to Campbell, all programs within the network are different but the commonality is that food is taken to families who need it.

“There are hamper programs, shelter programs, community meal programs and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about meeting that basic need,” Campbell said.

“We have one of the most innovative networks in the country. We are consistent in terms of access and working together so people can get what they need. And we work with many industries and donors to help meet these needs.”

When someone calls requiring assistance, the food bank will refer them to food programs that are as close to their homes as possible.

“For example, if someone call from Elmira, we will refer them to Woolwich Community Services,” Campbell said.

In 2017, 34, 408 individuals were served by the Community Food Assistance Network of Waterloo Region.

Last year – in the townships alone – 1,000 people were served, 333 households received assistance and 1,600 food hampers were distributed.

“Food is number one for us,” Campbell said. “We want people to stay healthy. The other supports such as counselling or job services are next, but food is the first piece of the puzzle.”

“All food is food but we focus on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. We make sure there is a focus on Canada’s Food Guide, to up the health of the community.”

This is quite a change since 20 years ago, when Campbell first began working with the food bank.

“Then, the focus was on non-perishable food, but now, it’s flipped and about 60 per cent of the food that goes out is fresh or frozen,” she said.

“We have worked hard with agency partners, grocery stores, farmers and community donors to make this work, especially with refrigeration. The industry has changed regarding fresh foods and so have we. It’s so great to have the support of the community to help us adapt to these changes as well.”

In 2018, the Food Bank unveiled a new on-site food processing facility, the Fresh Approaches Food Centre. The space improves the distribution of fresh food available to those in need and allows for increased variety, quality and quantity of fresh foods.

“This has really helped us reduce waste and provide good quality food,” Campbell said.

The Food Bank has 24 staff members and over 2,000 volunteers who donate more than 20,000 hours of service every year, helping with various jobs such as driving, food drives and food sorting.

And for those who require assistance, there is no “typical” food bank recipient and there is no single reason for people to need assistance.

“It’s all for the good of the community, to ensure that no one goes hungry. This community works so hard together to meet a basic need,” Campbell said.

“It’s about partnerships. And together, we really do try to take care of everyone in this community.”

This summer, the goal is to raise half a million meals by August 31st, giving peace of mind to struggling families and filling the hearts and bellies of kids in the community.

Donations to “Full Bellies, Happy Hearts” can be made on-line at: thefoodbank.ca

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