The Battlefords District Food and Resource Centre was among food banks from more than 25 countries in San Antonio last week.
The occasion was the sixth-annual H-E-B/Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) Food Bank Leadership Institute held at San Antonio Food Bank from Feb. 27 to March 2.
Bill Hall, Battlefords Food Bank executive director, was able to attend thanks to funding from Food Banks Canada and the Global Food Banking Network. For Hall, also executive director of the Food Banks in Saskatchewan, the conference was a real eye-opener.
“It kind of exposes us to what’s happening globally,” said Hall.
“Many of the issues are similar. We may speak different languages and live in different countries, but still the fact is we’re trying to help needy people.”
The title sponsor, H-E-B, is a major grocery retailer in Texas and northern Mexico, while Global FoodBanking Network’s mission is to alleviate global hunger by collaborating to develop food banks where they are needed around the world and support them where they exist.
The event proved to be both informative and an educational one for those attending, and Hall says this was the first year in which they had different tracks for different levels of food banking experience, from beginners through intermediate and advanced levels.
They learned the fundamentals of starting and sustaining a food bank as well as shared best practices, food sourcing and fundraising. The track Hall was in dealt with “sourcing food, dealing with statistics and how to keep records of where food goes and that type of thing, client databases.”
He pointed to some of the garden programs in place around the world and sourcing such items as milk and foodstuffs from producers. Hall also learned about a program in Australia where producers are volunteering a day of production at the food banks there.
There was heavy representation from the food industry there and several major food processors were there as part of what Hall described as their “corporate responsibility” to address social issues.
Hall notes there is a major movement among the big corporations and restaurants around the world to save some of the food from restaurants and give that food to people who need it.
He also noted there was an innovative program out of Egypt that began as a food rescue service out of four- and five-star restaurants there, but it’s now branched out and started a full food factory that does meat processing and some other items.
People employed in those factories and distributing the food were actually former clients who are returning to the workforce, Hall noted.
In Egypt, Hall noted, “there’s not a lot of safety net, and so people rely on their neighbours, so what some of what the food bank in Egypt is doing is get corporations and people who are wealthy individuals to actually sponsor a whole village and try and turn what’s happening in that village around and give people jobs and also provide the right nourishment for them.”
There was also a major presentation by the food bank in Israel on the subject of “gleaning.” Usually a producer produces a crop and sells it to the market, going through the field once. Usually, though, there is still significant amounts of food left over, and Hall said this food bank in Israel had “gone into these fields with volunteers and reclaimed it,” and collected the leftovers and make that available to people using food banks.
The situation in Egypt and the Middle East was a major highlight of the conference, which saw an agreement signed by GFN with the Egyptian Food Bank, which helps develop food banks in the region and among the countries impacted by the Arab Spring.
World Bank senior economist Nancy Morgan spoke about the impact of food losses and food waste globally.
The conference featured a strong Latin American contingent with attendees from Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay,and Uruguay.
The event was made possible by funding support from H-E-B, the Kraft Foods Foundation, Kellogg’s Corporate Citizenship Fund, General Mills Foundation, Cargill, and Sodexo.
Hall said the ideas brought up at the conference are ones he will consider not only in the Battlefords but also in his work with the provincial body. The key will be figuring out which will be right for this area.
“Some of these projects are huge and we kind of have to whittle them down so they can fit into our area,” Hall said.
Also welcome were the ideas designed to promote more professionalism in the way food banks are run, as many corporations demand greater transparency and the tracking of items.
“They want to know — to make sure it goes to the right people, Hall said.