Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada, recently visited our warehouse to gain first-hand experience with Food Banks Mississauga.
She received a tour of our warehouse, went for a ride-along with one of our drivers, Steve Dutton, to drop off food at an agency member and to pick up donations, and then finished her day with us by speaking with our Marketing & Communications Manager, Daisy Yiu.
Kirstin, thanks for joining us today! To start off, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what Food Banks Canada does and your role there?
I’m Kirstin Beardsley from Food Banks Canada. I’m the Food Banks Canada CEO and I get to lead an amazing team of folks who help make sure that Food Banks Canada’s mission is realized across the country. So that’s working with food banks across Canada to relieve hunger today and advocating for long-term change to see our vision of a Canada where no one goes hungry.
Today, you were able to ride along with one of our drivers, Steve, during one of our agency member drop-offs. How was that?
It was amazing. Steve’s great. He’s been at the food bank for 25 years and so his knowledge is incredible. And it’s also important to realize that food banks are a lot of different things. It’s not just volunteers, although that’s a huge part, it’s not just sorting food – it’s where the food comes from, how it gets out to the folks in need. How all of these different people come together to make the magic of food banking happen. So it was incredible just to be on the truck in the community, seeing the relationships Steve’s clearly built across the city of Mississauga.
That’s awesome. During your time with Steve and touring Food Banks Mississauga, was there anything that you came across that was a particular highlight or anything that you’d want to spotlight?
Sure – I mean, so much. Today, one of the things that struck me was – the first drop-off we did in the morning was to a community of Ukrainian newcomers. So a place where Ukrainians come right off the plane into a new country after leaving very difficult circumstances and the food bank is able to make sure that they have food. That’s just incredible work. Also just, I think for me, it’s the, you know, the spirit and the values that clearly permeate the entire organization. It’s a wonderful place to be. Being with Steve on the truck, knowing that that’s your ambassador out into the community, was pretty exciting. And, you know, it’s this magic that other folks don’t see. The behind-the-scenes of food banking is pretty special.
Food Banks Mississauga operates purely on a city level. Being the CEO of Food Banks Canada, what are you seeing on the national level when it comes to food insecurity?
So what I say is, and it’s true, is that food insecurity is in every community across the country. So what you’re seeing here is replicated from coast to coast to coast. I will say the nature of it is always very different, right? Not everyone has Pearson Airport in their backyard, so they’re not getting the same influx of, you know, folks from areas of conflict, for example. You’ve got very localized industries, which might mean a bump in need in a particular community if that industry shuts down. But really, what it is, is it’s the same suffering that folks encounter, and it’s the same courage to reach out for help. And it’s the same heroic, you know, folks who come together, whether they’re donors, volunteers, food bank staff, replicated in communities from big to small right across the country. And so it’s the magic of food banking meeting, what we see now, which is an enormous amount of need across the country.
We all know that food banks were created to be a temporary solution, a Band-Aid solution. Lo and behold, many years later, we’re all still here, which means the problem is still here. But I know that our organization and Food Banks Canada are working really hard to advocate for long-term change to actually address the root cause of food insecurity: poverty. Can you share with us a little bit about what Food Banks Canada does on the advocacy level?
Absolutely. And I want to say this is a long and rich tradition within food banking. So we have always come together not only to serve the immediate needs of our communities but to advocate for that long-term change so that we see the need for food banks come down and one day hopefully be eliminated. What we do nationally – we do a lot of research, so that we are grounding our advocacy in the truth and the reality of what food banks see on the ground. So things like our Annual Hunger Count report, where we count literally the number of people using food banks right across the country, and then we can bring that to elected officials and say, “here’s the evidence”, “here’s the truth of what we’re seeing” and “here’s what we know in terms of long-term policy solutions.” We advocate for very practical, realistic policy changes that governments can enact, you know, whether that’s at the federal, provincial, municipal level, in order to impact the lives of folks who need food banks and hopefully reduce the need for food banks right across the country.
How can folks get involved?
Hunger is often a silent problem. We don’t talk- you know, folks who go to the food bank don’t necessarily share that with their communities. And so it’s something that if we aren’t paying attention, we can imagine it’s not a big deal for those around us.
So trying to remind folks that you know someone who goes to a food bank, whether that’s in your kids’ schools or in your faith organizations, someone in your community is accessing a food bank. This isn’t a problem of some other place or some other people. So lending your voice is really important. Making sure that you are talking to family, friends, making it an issue that people share about, learn about. And then, when it comes time to make political decisions that all of our voices are being lent to the policy changes we want to see. And, of course, being active volunteers, donors, getting involved with your local food bank, and then, you know, sharing your voice as well.
Thank you so much for your time today, Kirsten, and I hope you enjoyed your day at Food Banks Mississauga!
It was fantastic. Thank you so much for having me.