(ANNews) – Edmonton’s Food Bank is offering a new program that goes beyond food to bring enhanced supports to its diverse clientele. The program, aptly named ‘Beyond Food’, is a partnership of local organizations with the shared goal to address a broader range of needs.
“We surveyed our clients and 70% of people reported that they were not connected with other supports in their community,” said Mandy White, Annex Program and Project Lead for Edmonton’s Food Bank. “So many people were not linked with key resources that could make a huge difference.”
Rather than duplicating existing services, the Food Bank mobilized alongside partner organizations to bring a variety of supports together at the Food Bank.
“It can be demoralizing to run around from place to place trying to find answers and support,” noted White. “We have made resources available at one location.”
Beyond Food provides employment supports and training, language, math and computer help, and support workers to help people connect to practical low-cost resources and community opportunities. All partners work together to meet a variety of needs.
“A person might come into the Food Bank for a food hamper, then speak with a support worker from the Canadian Mental Health Association or Catholic Social Services – and apply for a low-cost bus pass and free recreation pass through the City of Edmonton,” said White.
Beyond Food really is a team venture. Thanks to the Edmonton Community Foundation, and with the support of an OHS Innovation and Engagement grant through the Government of Alberta, Beyond Food is able to offer safety ticket training at no cost.
“In the past, a person might find a job they were interested in but wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for the ticket required to apply,” explained White.
“Because of this grant, we have an opportunity to help people access employment that would otherwise be out of reach. That goes a long way in terms of their experience of poverty and food insecurity. It can make the difference between needing a food hamper and being able to go to the grocery store. This funding creates better outcomes for families, for the future.”
“A client might take a ticket, certification, or employment workshop provided on-site by Boyle Street Community Services,” continued White, “and then an Employer Connector could help them find work experience opportunities through Habitat for Humanity. They might attend pre-employment programming for women through Bissell Centre – or even get a job through employment fairs hosted with Boyle Street Water Wings, or the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.”
Clients who are having trouble making ends meet can see volunteer money coaches, and get their taxes done for free through the Salvation Army and their Social Insurance Number for all family members through Service Canada.
“Having your taxes done and identification in place can open a lot of doors to qualify for tax credits and subsidy programs,” White confirmed. Those who are interested in Beyond Food’s free low-income tax clinics should call (780) 425-2133 extension 230 to book an appointment.
Many people who use the Food Bank are taking advantage of these opportunities. On a slow day we might see as few as 12 people in our Learning Lab alone, or as many as 25, remarked White. “We serve over 350 different people each month, one-on-one, so people receive focused attention.”
This focus on the individual remains at the forefront of the project’s priorities. Beyond Food is an open door. All services are offered on a drop-in basis, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“People are often surprised when we tell them that no appointment is necessary,” said White.
“We do our best to offer supports our clients feel are important in ways that make sense for them. When you don’t have a lot of resources or stability in your life, appointments can be a real obstacle: what if childcare falls through, or public transit is delayed, or something else happens that might cause a person to miss an appointment. People need flexibility. We are more effective for those who need our services if they can just drop-in and work at their own pace.”
Beyond Food strives to offer culturally relevant services. “We speak over six languages in our Learning Lab, where The Learning Centre offers English and math upgrading, English as a Second Language, and literacy supports,” noted White.
Everyone is welcome. Edmonton’s Food Bank has found a streamlined way of maximizing the efforts of many local organizations in one place for the benefit of Edmontonians. Now, clients walking into the Food Bank can rest assured that in addition to food security, they have allies alongside them in Beyond Food who will ensure that they are given every opportunity to succeed.
“We know it is not always only a matter of supplementing a person’s basic food needs,” concluded White.
“Nobody wants to be in the position to need to access Food Bank services – we understand, and we want to be both that soft landing spot and a springboard forward when times are tough.”