“I can only imagine…” is a phrase that a lot of us use daily. It implies that our personal experiences have not included the current situation. Be it discussion, personal interaction, thoughts while reading or a myriad of other reasons, this thought provides us with a sort of comfort and resistance to what another person is experiencing.
We hear this phrase a lot from people who have never encountered the Calgary Food Bank before. Sure they have an idea of what a Food bank does from their children’s school food drive or the office food collection around Christmas, but coming face to face with the reality of food security in Calgary can be daunting. People ask how someone gets to the point of needing food, what has happened, why did they not feed their kids, if they just worked harder, got rid of the car and cell phone, got a job and more. They surround themselves with ‘mental insulation’, a self-assurance that it will never be them…until it is.
The person coming to the food bank feels hunger, shame, need, despair, dread, and fear; a mix of negative emotions. In part they are admitting that they need help but they are desperately trying to focus on the things they can control. They dress well, they let the partner do the talking, and they hold it together.
The volunteer greeting our guests or clients know all this and more. “Hello, have you ever been here before?” starts a conversation that helps reduce stress, explains what is happening, guides and supports people. This simple phrase gives an opportunity to let people know they are not alone and that there are resources to help get them to a better place. Dignity is given, hope is restored.
A recent happening from one of the CFB staff:
As I was wrapping up the tour the other day one of the people on the tour shared their story.Her family immigrated to Canada 10 years ago. And she mentioned that her family had used the Food Bank when they first came to Calgary.She remembers how using the Food Bank helped her family settle and integrate. How using this service allowed her family to not have to worry about one part of the settlement process and focus on growing a foundation in Calgary. In this case it was less of an ‘emergency situation’ but was used as a tool to thrive.
Food banks are not just about food, they are about connecting people in crisis. Something has happened elsewhere in someone’s life, something that has caused the damage that is manifested in the need for food. Families make desperate choices on what bill to pay, what costs to incur, what life changes are needed. At the end of that, food. You can go with less food (so your kids eat first) but you can’t skip utility bills, or rent, or transportation. Understanding the decision pathways is critical to being able to help. Food is the proxy for life’s challenges.
Food banks connect individuals and families with the resources they need to get through crisis. Food banks can also provide dignity, part of the strength needed to move to recovery and beyond.