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FEED NOVA SCOTIA - How the three-decade-old charity deals with growing food assistance needs across the province

Between March 2008 and March 2015, food bank use went up in Nova Scotia by almost 17 per cent. And if Feed Nova Scotia’s Karen Theriault’s hunch is right, it’ll continue to rise.  

“What we’re seeing this year is that the need is becoming both wider in terms of the number of people going, but deeper in terms of the people who seem to be needing support more often,” says the director of development and communications.

We know the reasons like a mantra — no jobs, low incomes, high costs — but solutions, maybe not. One of the last lines of defense right now is Feed Nova Scotia itself and its 147 member food banks, shelters and meal programs across the province. 

2 Million Kilograms of Food and Counting

With five refrigerated trucks dispatched from a distribution centre at 213 Bedford Highway, the charity delivers about 2 million kilograms of food per year or almost 8,000 kilograms per day. The majority of it comes from corporations and individuals, but farmers donate, too, and the National Food Sharing System kicks in as well. 

It also has two trucks that support agencies in the HRM, where over half of its food is distributed. Every morning, drivers pick up prepared food from hospitals, restaurants, hotels and others, and then distribute it to shelters, soup kitchens and meal programs throughout the city.     

And whether it’s Halifax or Sydney Mines, Feed Nova Scotia uses a fair-shared distribution system. Meaning that after collecting monthly use data from members, they send out amounts of food based on that usage. “We use that system to reduce the risk of their being rich food banks and poor food banks,” says Theriault, “and it also provides that reliable, sustainable source of food from one end of the province to the other.” 

Apathy: The Biggest Challenge

Feed Nova Scotia can only be a reliable, sustainable source of food when its warehouse shelves are full, unlike their state in July. Typically, those shelves have a two to three week supply of food, but in July they had just two to three days’ worth. After hitting the panic button and getting the word out, Nova Scotians responded. But then, relative silence. 

“We expected nothing less than that support from people, but after getting over that hump, it’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t talk about hunger or poverty or the need for food as much,’” says Theriault. “So keeping the issue urgent is always the biggest challenge for us.”     

It’s been a big challenge since 1984, when people from the faith and business communities formed Feed Nova Scotia, then called “Metro Food Bank Society.” Back then, they supported about a dozen food banks and meal programs in the Halifax area and provided some direct client service. By 2003, they had rebranded to Feed Nova Scotia and moved away from direct client service after finding that enhancing the efforts of member agencies across the province was more useful.  

Tempered Hope

Another ongoing challenge for Feed Nova Scotia is funding, which comes entirely from community donations, but after making some operational changes, 2015/16 was a good year. Total revenue was $3.4 million, up about 14 per cent since 2010. 

There are other signs of hope for the organization, too, such as the provincial tax credit established in May that gives a farm 25 per cent of the market value of all fresh produce donated. In August alone, produce donations to Feed Nova Scotia were up 29,000 kilograms over last year. 

More than anything, though, Theriault sees the most potential in the ability of Feed Nova Scotia’s members to work together. “We’re not one organization; we’re 148,” she says. “And really, over the last year and a half, everyone has been just working so much more collaboratively. So not just providing food, but also referrals to community services, talking to people when they come in and understanding what might help them get to a better place.”  

And yet even with all of these positive signs, Theriault is cautious about getting hopes too high because, as she mentioned, food assistance needs seem to be trending upwards in the province. 

The upcoming Christmas season, when Nova Scotians are most giving, should help. As will Feed Nova Scotia’s one-off events and ongoing programs, such as give12, a way to automatically donate monthly using debit or credit. But it’s a balancing act when talking about hopes and realities. 

“It’s so emotional and hard to grasp the realities of someone who’s struggling with low income day in and day out,” says Theriault. “But balancing that with the belief that hope is available when we provide food and that people can make a difference when they give — that’s what we try to do.”

Stay tuned to Feed Nova Scotia’s social media channels and for details on events, programs and ways to help.