July 12, 2012

Private donor helps needy families with free fresh produce

Jim Duggan only experienced hunger once in his life.

And once was enough. “I was just a kid, and I have never forgotten how it felt to have no food in the house – the cupboard bare,” he said Tuesday.

“For me it was just once, but for many kids it’s something they deal with every day.”

Hunger as a fact of life is something Duggan, a senior manager at B.C. Conveying Machinery in Vancouver, finds intolerable.

And so on Tuesday, a truckload of fresh vegetables and fruit did the rounds of Vancouver’s inner-city schools, distributing more than 318 kilograms (700 pounds) of produce to supplement the emergency food rations distributed to many needy families.

Duggan had hoped his pledge to pro-vide $500 from his own pocket every month to pay for this food run would remain private, but the news leaked out.

He was moved to act, he said, by The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign, which was inspired by teacher Carrie Gelson’s now-famous appeal for help for inner-city schools being overwhelmed by social problems associated with poverty.

“It was something I’d wrestled with for a long time. I’ve got a job and I’ve decided to do what I can to help,” said Duggan.

First-time deliveries of produce were made Tuesday to Ray-Cam Community Centre for adjacent schools and to MacDonald, Strathcona, and Thunderbird elementary schools.

“I know I can’t solve the problems of the Downtown Eastside – it would take a million of me to do that – but I can do a bit and I want to encourage others to get involved,” he said.

Duggan is buying the produce from Neighbor’s Choice Farm Market operated by his friend Jason Yang in West Vancouver.

“I’ve teamed up with Jason. I didn’t want it to cost him his profit. But he’s not making any money doing this as he’s giving it to me wholesale. And he’s delivering it, which means his truck has to come across the Lions Gate and I’m grateful for his help,” said Duggan.

“It’s all going to be fresh produce. We’re not going to give something that’s near the end of its shelf-life. We want to send the message to the people who receive this that they are valued and respected.”

The bags of carrots, broccoli, bananas, apples, oranges and onions are arriving in time for spring break.

Thunderbird elementary principal Henry Peters said the 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of carrots, broccoli and bananas that he received would form a crucial part of the food supplements distributed to needy families on Friday.

Thunderbird principal Henry Peters

These families face two weeks of schools being shut and the loss of breakfast and lunch for hungry children. Nor will schools be able to pro-vide emergency food vouchers for parents, said Peters.

This is the second shipment of produce the school will receive this month. Since the Adopt-a-School campaign began last year, Thunder-bird has been receiving fruit and vegetables from the Vancouver Farmer’s Market on the third Monday of each month.

Financed by Adopt-a-School donations, Thunderbird has also initiated a breakfast program that feeds up to 70 hungry children a day. The school is now part of a program in which food staples in a backpack are sent home with some students on Fridays to see their families through the weekend.

“We’ll fill about 25 backpacks this weekend. We have deliveries of [donated] Cobb’s bread coming in. We will do our best for the families and now we can give them more fresh produce, which is terrific,” said Peters.

Except for people who live near Chinatown with its proliferation of produce stores, many families in the east side don’t have access to stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables, said Duggan. “There’re no proper grocery stores in the Downtown Eastside. I went into one near Strathcona [on East Pender St.] and all it had were a few bananas,” he said.

“When some parents on the east side receive food vouchers, they have to give them transit passes because they have to travel out of where they live to get the food. There’s nothing around the corner,” said Duggan.

For this reason, he’s interested in helping start a Downtown Eastside food co-op. He’s been in touch with a group called Mom-to-Mom, an organization founded by two University of B.C. academics late last year. Dr. Barbara Fitzgerald, one of its co-founders, has worked in the Downtown Eastside for many years and is an advocate for a food co-op to be run from one of the inner city schools.

Fitzgerald believes a co-op would result in food being made available to families at much lower cost.

“I’ve talked to Mom-to-Mom but I’m waiting for an income tax refund to come in and then I’ll use it to finance the co-op,” Duggan said. “It should only cost a couple of thousand to get it going. If people down there get together, they’ll have a lot of purchasing power.”

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