As the term reaches its end, our project will soon draw to a close as well. In this final blog post, we will reflect on another moment of significance that occurred during the past few months. We will also review our project results and how the overall project helped to provide us with a better understanding of current food systems in our world.
Moment of Significance:
For many of us, we felt this project consisted of many highs and lows. There were many times where we felt overwhelmed, but now as the end is near, we feel satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. Although the goal was explicit at the beginning, we were unsure of where to start as this project is very different from any we’ve done before. After the first meeting with our community partners, the managers from the Richmond Food Bank Society (RFBS), we successfully built an effective community partnership as per the University of Memphis (2018) which states that missions, values, goals, and outcomes are to be agreed upon by both parties. We not only received help and guidance from the RFBS managers in regards to our project objectives, but we also gained insight about how the food bank operates and they brought awareness to Richmond’s current food insecurity issue, which we were unfamiliar with.
After our group discussion and consultation with our community partners, we drafted our proposal with approximate weekly objectives. Essentially, our main objective was to increase the amount of perishable food offerings provided to the Richmond Food Bank clients by increasing the number of donors, in particular, grocery stores. Based on the knowledge gained, we listed and refined a series of questions pertaining to food waste and general concerns of donations, which we then directed to the managers of three select retailers which included Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Superstore. Our expectations were that the managers would be able to answer most, if not all, of the questions on our survey. However, these expectations were not fulfilled, resulting in our project taking a turn in a different direction. This situation is similar to what was described in the Poultry Slam 2011: Act 3: Latin Liver podcast (This American Life, 2011). One’s initial plan might not yield expected results. However, you might gain other invaluable information instead.
We soon learned that many of our survey questions were unanswerable by the grocery store managers. It was obvious that the store managers were very reluctant to answer the questions due to confidentiality reasons and continuously referred us to the corporate managers. On a positive note, we were able to gather some valuable information from a couple of the managers, yet, we failed to achieve our original objective of increasing the amount of perishable food item donations as the grocery store managers did not have the authority to make a decision regarding such donations. Also, it was clear that they were unaware of the laws in terms of food donations as one of the main recurring concerns was in regards to liability issues. Instead, we focused on the obstacles and barriers that were preventing the food bank from receiving more perishable food item donations such as:
1. concerns of storage space and facilities in food banks;
2. power imbalance and long chain of demand in grocery stores as store managers are not authorized to make certain decisions pertaining to donating food;
3. lack of communication between non-profit organizations and donors who have excess amounts of perishable foods. (The RFBS does not contact donors regularly with donation requests while the donors donate foods by the “need” categories on RFBS’ website, which is facing individual/household donation.
4. grocery store lack of knowledge in food literacy and food safety. (foodborne illness of vegetables and fruits.)
5. low incentives and no requirement/demand for donors to donate since the donation barely generates private benefits, and there is no government intervention to promote donations.
We believe that in order for the Richmond Food Bank to increase the amount of perishable foods distributed to their clients, they should approach smaller retailers such as farm markets, instead of corporations, for perishable donations. Managers or owners of smaller, local stores may be more sympathetic and responsive to the issue of food insecurity in their community. Also, prospective donors need to be more aware of the Good Samaritan laws regarding food donations which basically state that those who donate to food assistance charities, such as food banks, are not liable in terms of damages resulting from injuries or death caused by the consumption of these foods. Furthermore, Canada, as a whole, needs to work on reducing poverty as it is a major indication of food insecurity. Also, food banks must advocate for government funding so that these institutions can purchase required perishable foods and the necessary storage equipment such as fridges and freezers. Government subsidies will eliminate the reliance of food banks on public donations which, many times, can be expired or unuseable. In this way, food banks will be able to buy what they want as required to suit the needs of their clients.
As a part of our project with our community partners, we created a food recovery brochure which we named Richmond’s Food Rescue Program. It is a document that will be given to prospective donors and contains information regarding the laws concerning food donations, how to properly transport perishable foods to the Food Bank, as well as information about why perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, are of high priority to the food bank. We hope this brochure will be insightful and encourage more perishable food donations.
Upon completing the data analysis and the public presentation, our group members were not as upset with our findings even though they were not what was expected. Instead of achieving our planned objectives, we instead found barriers that prevented the Richmond Food Bank from receiving more perishable food item donations. After having identified the barriers, we also proposed possible solutions to the barriers so that to better help the Richmond Food Bank receive more donations of perishable food items. We believe that by properly communicating with the donors and giving them the brochure, they can know that the food safety issue they worry so much about can be resolved as well as reaching for their head offices to work together with the Richmond Food Bank to initiate new programs in regards to perishable food item donations.
In the end, we were very appreciative of the opportunity to be able to work with the Richmond Food Bank. Not only we were able to learn about the food bank’s operations, but also help the food bank uncover obstacles that stood in their way of receiving more donations. We hope in the future of our university life, we are able to have more opportunities like this.
This American Life. (2011). Latin Liver. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/452/poultry-slam-2011/act-three-0
University of Memphis. (2017). Module 5 – Introduction – Engaged Scholarship. Retrieved March 29, 2018, from http://www.memphis.edu/ess/module5/index.php