The Greater Vancouver Food Bank has a problem, and that problem is good intentions.
Sure, there's a warm, fuzzy feeling to be had from making a difference in someone's life through charity, but the next time you want to donate food, ask yourself, "Will anyone actually want this half-eaten jar of peanut butter?"
The GVFB, founded in 1982, currently provides assistance to more than 26,500 people every week. However, unwanted donations—everything from opened bread and expired food, to much more exotic offerings like canned alligator and armadillo—cost the organization to the tune of $40,000 annually. Those costs are racked up through staff time as well as the expenses associated with actually diverting the donations, either to the landfill or to other groups like Harvest Power that take organic material and turn it into green energy.
Ariela Friedmann, GVFB's communications director, tells MUNCHIES, "I think people mean well and I think in people's mindsets, it's 'I don't want to waste this; I'll give it to the food bank.' But what they are really doing is dumping their waste on us."
Perhaps surprisingly, much of the waste that they receive isn't food: vitamins and other health products, or even alcohol, all make their way through the processing line.
"It's just mind-boggling," says Friedmann.
In fact, the organization has even begun collecting bizarre donated items in a gastronomic curio cabinet dubbed The Wall of Shame. The project began around 2013, partly out of amusement and partly to help build awareness of the issue.
"People will look at the products and go, 'Oh my god, I remember that from my childhood," Friedmann tells MUNCHIES.
Yes, some of the stuff is old. Really old. Apparently it's a common practice for families to clear out pantries after a loved one has passed away and send off the contents to the food bank, which explains the nostalgia of seeing an ancient box of Dream Whip on the shelves that Aunt Doris used to make pies with in 1962.
However, as apparently goofy as all of this sounds, Friedmann never lets the conversation slip too far from the serious nature of what is being discussed: people in need.
"We're talking about our friends, our neighbours," she says. "The face of hunger is not the face people think it is. Really the face of hunger is students, working people who at the end of the month, after they've paid rent and utilities and medicine, have is so little to buy healthy food."
What the food bank does need is good, clean canned proteins like chicken, fish, and beans. You can even make cash donations, which the GVFB uses to purchase fresh, local, seasonal produce through Vancouver-area farmers and grocers.
So, remember, there are plenty of ways to help out the needy, but people can't live on good intentions—and they'd rather not live on canned armadillo or shark-fin soup, either.