The DTES Kitchen Tables Series is a series of dialogues at MOV that put a lens on the issue of providing nutritious and affordable food to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The first dialogue centred around the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of a minimum standard of living. This mentality provides a huge barrier to access for many people in need of nutritious food. Many Downtown Eastside residents have health and mental issues that are exacerbated by their lack of access to adequate nutrition, and while they may not have the money to pay for it, the need is still there.
On October 24 we were joined by Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House, Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre and Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUD to talk about practical solutions to the food problem in the DTES. The dialogue, “Harvest… What harvest?” centred around the issue of distributing quality food in the DTES and the discussion uncovered several issues that face non-profits as they try to help those in need.
The trouble with donations
Downtown Eastside non-profits are often the recipients of food donations from well-wishing donors and businesses that often unintentionally put the recipient organizations in a difficult position.
While they are desperately in need of donations and resources, they are often the recipients of donations that they are not able to use. Often donations are of food that is of low nutritional value - high in sugar and fat - food that is not well suited to meeting the nutritional needs of their clients who may suffer from diabetes, HIV, malnutrition or other conditions.
At other times food donations may be difficult to process. A donation of vegetables or fruit may be at the end of it’s shelf life and an organization may not have the resources - the staff time, volunteers and storage space to make use of it. The organization must then take on the burden of dealing with it’s disposal.
So why accept these donations in the first place?
Once again, the poverty mentality rears it’s ugly head. What right do these organizations in need have to refuse this help that is offered to them? The panelists revealed that it is often difficult to refuse food donations regardless of the fact that they may not meet their organizations’ needs. Non-profits and charities do not want to burn their bridges or be seen to be ungrateful for the assistance that is offered to them.
These organizations recognize that donors mean well, but that better communication is needed so that organizations in the DTES are the recipients of donations that they can actually use. And, in addition to this, there is a need for organizations to be comfortable with refusing donations, to script a depersonalized and non-alienating ‘no’ so that non-profits have more say in what they ultimately distribute to their clients.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will be Making Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org