Founded as a temporary measure, food banks have become a permanent fixture in almost every community. Dedicated to providing food and related assistance to those in need, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank moves more than eight million pounds of food annually.
It serves 27,000 inpiduals every week — 26 per cent of those children and 12 per cent seniors — and the need to feed the hungry has never been greater. The agency has seen a 10 per cent increase over last year and a considerable increase in first-time users of the food bank.
Recently assuming the helm of an agency that receives no government funding and relies solely on the generosity of others is Aart Schuurman Hess, who has more than 25 years of experience in both the public and private sectors.
Schuurman Hess’s most recent tenure was with the Mustard Seed in Alberta, a non-profit organization that delivers basic services, housing and employment programs to those in need. For Schuurman Hess, this holiday season is critical for the food bank and families.
What attracted you to the role at the Greater Vancouver Food bank?
The ability to make a difference and to help people move forward in their lives. Hunger is something that I see as a solvable problem and while I’ve only been here a short time, I am really looking forward to collaborating with inpiduals and organizations so we can work towards a solution together.
How important is the holiday season?
It’s definitely the most critical time for us. Hunger is something that affects people 12 months of the year, so the donations we receive over the holiday season have a significant impact and play a significant role in how we will be able to help care for the community for the rest of the year.
How do you begin to end hunger in the city?
That’s a great question and one I think we need to be looking at together. I don’t see hunger as a challenge that any one organization can solve on its own, as there are numerous reasons/contributing factors as to why people are in need of our services.
For instance, affordable housing may not be part of our immediate mandate. However, if people are spending up to 91 per cent of their disposable income on housing, that does have a direct impact on the need for our services.
That’s just one example. But it speaks to why it is so critical that we start working together with other organizations and members of our community. Working together is the only way we are going to be able to effect positive change.
What’s been the biggest change you have seen over the years in terms of feeding the hungry?
While I am still relatively new, I would say perhaps the biggest change is in who is using the food bank. I think stereotypically it may be easy to make an assumption about who you think those inpiduals are, but we say that we have a name for people who use the food bank — it’s "neighbour" — because the people who are relying on us for help are your mother, your uncle, your sister, your grandmother and even the person sitting next to you at school.
How much of the food you receive is "good" food?
We are working extremely hard to continuously increase the nutritional value of the food supplements we provide. For example, we are currently purchasing more than 100,000 pounds of fresh, local produce every month.
We are also working hard in the areas of education and encouraging anyone who wants to make a food donation to consider the nutritional content of those choices, and wherever possible, to opt for things that are lower in sugar and salt and higher protein, fibre, etc.
What is the food bank in most need of?
Canned fish/meat, natural peanut butter, whole-wheat pasta and rice, pasta sauce, canned fruit and vegetables, whole grain, low sugar cereal, baby food formula and supplies.
How does the food bank convert $1 into $3 worth of food?
The size of our organization gives us significant buying power, and as a result enables us to stretch the dollars we receive.
The biggest challenge may be the system itself — the high cost of living and childcare, the increase in food prices and the living wage — these are all elements that contribute to people being stuck in the system.
It demonstrates the urgent need for collaboration between government, private and social sectors to create a plan to turn the ship around.
Truthfully, we haven’t had one as yet. We’ve made significant progress and we’re not afraid of change and challenges that go along with it, so we will be ready if we do encounter one. As I said earlier, nothing is impossible as long as you are determined to succeed.
The progress we have made with our focus on fresh, local products and helping generate awareness about the need for collective change.
Best life lesson you’ve learned?
Modesty is the best policy.
One lesson you’d love to give others?
Nothing is impossible as long as you are determined to succeed!
One thing you could change about the world?
To be able to care for everyone, equally.
One thing you hate most about the world?
Violence, it needs to stop.
One thing you wish Vancouverites would stop whining about?
The weather! It is so beautiful here even if it is raining.
What was your "a-ha" moment?
Understanding the impact and influence social media can have on teenagers.
Three words to live by?
Never give up (ever!).
Most thankful for?
A talent you possess that many are not aware of?
Baking. Dutch Apple Tart, of course.
Last $20 bucks to your name, how would you spend it?
I’m Dutch — I’d save it!
Best place for coffee?
Elysian Coffee on West Broadway.
Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel Lounge.
Yew Restaurant in the Four Seasons.
Favourite greasy spoon?
Mississippi Mud Pie.
Last book read?
Notes to the Future by Nelson Mandela.
All-time favourite movie?
A River Runs Through It.
Favourite sports team?
AFC Ajax, Amsterdam.
Last place travelled?
Best thing about this city?
Worst thing about this city?
People crossing the streets early morning or late at night in dark clothes!
Your favourite neighbourhood?
What would the perfect day in Vancouver look like for you?
Early morning stroll at Spanish Banks, lunch at Cardero’s and a non-activity with no telephone or email.
Community event, festival or gala that you look forward to every year?
The annual fireworks at English Bay.
The one place you take out-of-town visitors to show off our city?
Who inspires you?
The Dalai Lama.
Who bugs you?
Honey Boo Boo.
Local person you most admire?
Most over-rated person?
Have not met him or her yet.
Most memorable celebrity encounter?
Luciano Pavarotti on a flight between Copenhagen and Amsterdam.