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Rose Simpson: People don't like being judged by their food banks

[ Fresh produce at the Byward Market


[ Fresh produce at the Byward Market.

Photo by Jamie McCaffrey from the OttawaStart Flickr Group ](https://www.flickr.com/photos/15609463@N03/7578738408/)


_ _ Rose Simpson’s column appears most Tuesday mornings on the OttawaStart Blog. She also blogs at Rose’s Cantina . _ **


I’m troubled by a recent media circus over remarks made by the director of a local food bank.

Karen Secord, the coordinator of the Parkdale Food Centre, says she has been turning back food she doesn’t believe is good for her clients, things like Kraft Dinner and canned soup.

The interview set off a media feeding frenzy and ruffled a lot of feathers among people who donate to the Ottawa Food Bank, which does not share Ms. Secord’s policy.

Media trainers must be lining up right now to give Ms. Secord some advice about how to do media interviews. Meanwhile she’s been threatened and called names by people, and by the looks of the follow-up story she has no idea why.

I don’t think anyone disagrees with Ms. Secord that disadvantaged people need, and deserve, nutritious food. From what I’ve seen looking at the bin at my local Loblaws, most people are making good choices concerning what they put in their food bank donations. Sure, there’s the odd KD, but mostly I see canned tomatoes, beans, diapers, baby formula and so on.

The food deemed unacceptable doesn’t have to be sent back, it needs to be sent to the recycle, no questions asked. As many people have pointed out, food banks should (and are) thankful for all donations. Otherwise, people will stop giving.

What ruffled the feathers was not what she said about the need to provide nutritious food. What bugged people who donate is that they felt judged. How dare she question what we ourselves eat?

It’s the same backlash that is being felt by schools who are calling the Children’s Aid Society on parents who don’t pack nutritious lunches for their kids. Nothing wrong with sending information home to ALL parents at the beginning of the school year to give them some guidance. Nothing wrong with informing people about the need to be sensitive to food allergies of classmates.

I once had the CAS called on me because a school didn’t like the lunch my babysitter packed my kids. All I needed was a note from the school; instead I got the third degree from the authorities. I was utterly humiliated.

Do-gooders should not be so quick to pass judgment. Everyone has skeletons. Everyone.

Back to the food bank issue.

The good news is that the uproar has given people something to think about. Ms. Secord would probably never have gotten the publicity if she hadn’t made those negative comments. Nutrition isn’t as sexy and pitting a charity against its donors.

So let’s take this episode out of the media gutter. Here, thanks to the Parkdale Food Centre, is what they would like people to donate.

And here is what Glen Pearson from the London, Ontario Food Bank has to say about the controversy. The words in italics are his.

Thanks for the question about food donations. Because most of the food comes from the public in anonymous fashion, it is difficult to send anything back that we believe might be harmful - like after due-date. When companies donate, they always ask us what we would prefer and they are good at purchasing those items. We also spend a fair bit of funds each year purchasing food and, of course, that permits us to be selective. We've been at this 28 years and we have found that the public has gotten very good at the food they donate to us. Education is a huge part of that and we work with the local health unit for recommendations. One of their staffers is on our board.
I did some interviews on the Parkdale situation but I believe it was an odd situation that just happened to get national coverage. Food banks just don't work like that and it seems to me they are always thankful for the public's generosity. Jane and I are just at a food bank event right now and we've already had numerous questions from folks about what kind of food they should donate. That shows just how willing citizens are to give the right things. A big problem is always whatever food is donated, it sometimes stays in that location for a day or two before it gets to the food bank. That makes non-perishables something of a priority, though not exclusively. That Parkdale director had some problems with that, but food banks in general are just thankful. They and the public are getting better supplies everyday. It's an educational issue and takes time. Judgments aren't helpful.


 Rose Simpson



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_ ** See also: ** Ottawa Food Guide

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