Garneau Strathcona Food Security Program

The Cause

The Garneau Strathcona Food Security (GSFS) program is a unique community outreach program of three United Churches in southwest Edmonton. Volunteers from Garneau United Church, St. Paul’s United Church, United on Whyte, and other community volunteers work together with the Guests they serve to distribute food on a weekly basis to individuals and families needing assistance. A Cooperative Board made up of Church, Community and Guest Volunteers presently coordinates the program.

Food is sourced weekly from generous community supporters:
• Edmonton Food Bank allows us to glean their coolers
• Wild Earth Café and Heritage and Riverbend Safeways provide us with bread and baked items (Wild Earth recently closed; Heritage Sobey’s is eager to take their place)
• Ashbourne Assisted Living Residence, associated with Garneau United Church, provides us a weekly donation of frozen, unconsumed foods
• Additional fresh produce and protein rich foods are purchased to augment the food donations

These foodstuffs are distributed every Saturday morning at Garneau United Church with the assistance of one of our four Volunteer Teams, which are supported in turn by Guest volunteers who pitch in to lend a hand. Together they help with set up, food packaging, food distribution and clean up.

A warm community atmosphere pervades the hall each Saturday morning. Coffee, tea and a nutritious snack greet the Guests, conversations of mutual support fill the room, and occasionally someone sits down to the piano to brighten the morning with a tune or two. Birthdays are acknowledged with a donated treat and little ones who join us are embraced with warm smiles and open arms.

This unique co-operative model between the supporting churches and the individuals and families, our Guests, who access the outreach program, is deeply gratifying to everyone involved.

To date the GSFS program has been 100% volunteer run, but with the retirement of our two dedicated volunteer co-coordinators who have built the program over a period of ten years, we are struggling to sustain it. To absorb some of their workload (30+ hours a week) we need to hire a part time coordinator to support the work of our already committed Volunteers (25+/month). A Field Law Community grant would help us with this expense and allow us to maintain this valuable community program while we work to secure ongoing funding from the City, Province and/or a charitable foundation for the future.

Who Will it Benefit?

Each week we provide supplementary food assistance to 150+ people struggling to get by, including families and individuals of all ages. Guests include the working poor, persons with disabilities and mental health issues, and persons on a variety of income support programs. A growing number of new Canadians are also accessing our services. We serve anyone who comes, regardless of their religious persuasion, and consciously seek to accommodate dietary restrictions observed by some.

We have observed an ever-growing need in our community for the program: in 2015 we served 7938 people; 8957 in 2016; and 9544 in 2017, a third of which were children in family units. Though we would rather see a decline in the numbers, we anticipate that people using our service will top 10,000 in 2018.

Our program also provides participating volunteers (25+/month) a rich experience in community engagement. A goodly number of our volunteers are retirees and seniors whose community service is valued and appreciated. Younger volunteers sometime bring along their children to assist, which gives them an opportunity to see first hand the many needs that exist in our community and deepens their compassionate involvement in the world they live in.

A warm rapport has developed between our Guests and other volunteers. Many of our guests are eager to reciprocate and willingly offer up their services to support the program with set up and distribution. The GSFS program has gradually evolved into a mutual support society. It’s a beautiful thing to see the guests assist others through the line up if they are newcomers or their physical disability hampers them access, and to forego taking certain foods because others may have greater need.

Here’s what one of our committed Volunteer Guests has to say: “As a client of these services I really believe in what this Community is about and does, so much so that I became a regular volunteer with them. I am there every Friday morning and Saturday morning and I see first hand how many we help. While I am happy that we help so many, I am saddened to see that so many need help. In my humble opinion, this organization is without question worthy of your attention and support.” - Chris