The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University is giving food boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic to help two Metro Vancouver organizations that support vulnerable communities.
Food grown at the ISFS Tsawwassen First Nation Farm School, which is a partnership with the Tsawwassen First Nation, will be packed and delivered to the Kekinow Native Housing Society in Surrey and the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) in Vancouver.
“The Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at KPU is committed to advancing the regional food system through supporting food security initiatives of community organizations. Community collaboration is central to our approach and much of our work is based on listening to the needs of communities,” says Caroline Chiu, projects manager at ISFS.
In the 2019 farming season, an ISFS project with three Indigenous communities tested whether systemic challenges such as food insecurity and food access affect the health of vulnerable populations.
“We provided fresh vegetable boxes throughout the whole season to investigate whether there will be any changes to health, diet, lifestyle and eating habits by removing the food access barrier,” adds Chiu. “The feedback and results were positive.”
Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created another layer of stress to these families to get fresh produce. With new funding from Community Food Centres Canada, ISFS is providing vegetable boxes to 18 families on a weekly basis for 20 weeks throughout the growing season.
“In April and May 2020, PIRS staff reached out to 350 immigrant and refugee women in the Metro Vancouver area and found that they are struggling. From these conversations we understood that 50 per cent of immigrant and refugee families are facing increased stress from loss of income and growing anxiety about financial and housing instability,” says Valerie Lai, program coordinator at PIRS.
“87 per cent of these women are feeling isolated and mentally exhausted and have expressed a need for one-to-one support to navigate government emergency benefits and to access healthy food and other basic necessities.”
Pam O’Neill, a cultural outreach worker at Kekinow Native Housing, says they work with low-income Indigenous families who are also experiencing anxiety about leaving their homes and a heightened fight or flight response related to intergenerational trauma.
“This additional stress exacerbates previously existing conditions over represented in Indigenous families, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Additionally, families are living on modest means and are struggling to stay prepared for various outcomes.”
As a partnership initiative with TFN, the farm school will be donating vegetables to the TFN Elders Centre and its Food Stability Program, which was created due to the pandemic.
“We are thrilled to be able to support these families and communities, and should we receive more funding throughout the year, we will reach out to more people. In the short term, we hope that this will help alleviate some stress and put healthy, nutritious food on the tables of these families. But in the long term, we hope to see a change in eating habits and consumer behaviour when grocery shopping which will in turn support the local food system,” says Chiu.