By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The Lethbridge area is truly one of the greatest agricultural hubs in western Canada, and if you had to start a food bank anywhere in Canada the city is almost ideally located to reap the biggest benefit from its associations with the surrounding feedlots, cattle producers, greenhouses, farmers and food processing plants. It’s a fact not lost on Danielle McIntyre, executive director of Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge.
“Lethbridge is the agricultural centre of the south here. Since our operation really runs by donation, it’s the community helping us to make sure we have the resources we need. Almost 85-90 per cent of the resources we have are coming in as gifts in kind, which is basically food. And that is all about local agriculture, right?”
McIntyre says through initiatives like Project Protein, the food bank’s community garden program, annual pancake breakfast, and its community kitchen, that relationship with the surrounding agriculture industry is growing deeper and more entwined all the time.
With Project Protein, a shared initiative between several local food banks, the food bank experienced a huge, collaborative success by any measure or standard. According to the food bank’s final report on it, the program recruited 84 beef and 46 pork (for a total of 130 animals) and issued over $167,000 in charitable tax receipts to donors. This surplus of meat provided food banks with more than 39,000 pounds of ground beef for local food bank families.
McIntyre says the Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge jumped in with both feet on the initiative, and it has already had a lasting legacy beyond the pilot project as well.
“We proved the concept of the program and donors really hopped on board. We found the butchers were really quite happy to work with us, and even give us some discounted pricing. We grind everything that comes in, and it just goes straight out to the food banks. It’s perfectly healthy meat that you could find anywhere else.
“Since the program ended, our food bank here has seen about five to seven animals coming in every month now. It’s just fantastic! What it did is open the doors to the process, and that’s really what we wanted Project Protein to prove; that is was a doable process.”
It also helps that the Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge can provide local producers with a market for animals they might not otherwise be able to sell due to injury, or being under or over weight.
“They have a couple of options,” continues McIntyre. “They can butcher it and use it as food for their families, or they can access a program like Project Protein where they take that animal to a licensed processor and bring it to the food bank to give that meat away for free.
“If you are a registered charity, which we are, you can receipt what you receive at fair market value. So basically I can write a receipt for a gift in kind for what you would generally purchase that item on the market for. So in this case, the price of the cow.
“We use CanFax on the date it was donated to determine the price to receipt. We pull the price off the market that day and that’s what you are going to get your tax receipt for.
“For some people that tax receipt comes in handy; other people don’t really care about it. Financially it’s dollar for dollar.”
Project Protein is really only the tip of the iceberg for the food bank’s engagement with the surrounding agriculture industry. According to McIntyre, her organization’s community kitchen would not be feasible without producers’ ongoing support.
“We offer a community kitchen here on site where people can learn how to cook healthy foods on a low budget,” explains McIntyre. “We have farmers who will donate fresh produce to us. The initiative that supports our kitchen is through Alberta Pulse Growers. They gave us a grant to do some cooking with pulses in the kitchen.
“We have also had support in the past through the Turkey Farmers and Egg Producers. With all those programs they give us money to use their products in our recipes in the kitchen.
“We also have a close relationship with Viterra and Crop Production Services. Through that partnership we have been able to tap into our bean crops in the area and cook with baked beans for our pancake breakfast we do every year.
“Ellison Mills gives us the flour for our whole wheat pancakes; that’s produced right here in Lethbridge.”
And even the kitchen’s adjacent Learning Garden, on the side of the food bank building, can boast strong ties to the local greenhouse industry.
“We work with our local greenhouses to make sure we get all of the seedlings ahead of time,” says McIntyre. “It has saved us a ton of money in the produce we supply for the cooking classes. We are so fortunate. Almost every local greenhouse here will give us a discount or donation every season when we start the garden back up.
“Several of them were instrumental in being able to get the garden built and started. We also had a couple people come from the Lethbridge Research Station involved with our committee to figure out what the garden should look like and the ratio of things like gravel to soil… And that’s what we needed. We were able to tap into some local expertise, which again, we have in this area because we are so tightly tied to agriculture.
“It just makes for phenomenal collaborations and opportunities for us.
McIntyre says every step of the way for the past 25 years the local agriculture community has come through so many ways to help with the Interfaith Food Bank’s mission in Lethbridge.
“It’s a huge relationship for us! We meet the immediate needs of families experiencing food insecurity. We distribute a monthly food hamper, and then, of course, people can access perishable foods here as well.
“We like to take the adage ‘Give a man a fish’ one step further in that we are happy to provide for the immediate needs but we want to empower our families toward their own food security.