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Recipe Swap: Operation Donation

If you’re a Farmers’ Almanac reader, you’ll have heard of the ‘Wolf moon’ of January and February’s ‘Hunger moon.’

Aboriginal people gave these names to the months of winter because there wasn’t much food around. The heavy snow of February made hunting very difficult.

A different sort of ‘hunger moon’ hangs over those with empty refrigerators or cupboards today, and little means to put much food in them.

This is a lean time for food banks too.

After Christmas, donations to Winnipeg Harvest and local food banks can drop by as much as 40 per cent between January and March. The hungry among us are out of sight and out of mind.

Fortunately, Operation Donation shines through.

This is a mid-winter food drive, supported by the Manitoba Teachers Society and led by Manitoba children in elementary and middle years schools to help Harvest and regional food banks stock up again.

Operation Donation began in 2000 with a handful of Winnipeg schools. Each child brought one non-perishable food item to school during a designated week.

Operation Donation runs February 25 to March 1 this year, with about 75 schools collecting canned soups, baby food, pasta and other non-perishable food items. An increasing number in smaller Manitoba towns are participating nowadays, and notably rural schools have been first to sign up, say food bank staff.

All food collected goes directly to the food bank of the community or the participating school, explains Colleen McVarish, development manager at Winnipeg Harvest. Winnipeg Harvest does not handle or distribute any donated food outside of Winnipeg; the food goes directly from school to food bank.

The bulk of schools are inside the city, but in divisions such as Parkwest, Seine River, Borderland, Sunrise, Beautiful Plains, Garden Valley, and the Interlake, young folk have collected thousands of pounds of food over the years, and together, that one non-perishable item per child really adds up.

Last year Operation Donation collected a total of 43,233 lbs. of non-perishable food items. That donation is then matched in fresh vegetables from Peak of the Market. Canada Safeway also now matches the schools’ contribution and Manitoba Public Insurance is also on board, last year taking in another 12,312 lbs. at its outlets around the province. With matched donations, the grand total was 166,635 lbs. of food in 2012.

It helps make up that seasonal shortfall, says McVarish.

“We’ve been averaging probably about 45,000 lbs. from the schools over the last couple of years,” she said. “We can’t count on it, but we hope we achieve it because we definitely need it and use it.”

Operation Donation also drives home another message about the face of hunger and food insecurity in Manitoba; almost half of those who eat food from food banks (47 per cent) are kids themselves.

“This is children helping children,” McVarish said.

Is the school your child attends taking part? Schools can register online. For more information about Operation Donation online please log on to

Winnipeg Harvest’s 10 Most Wanted Items

  • Canned fish and poultry
  • Canned fruit and vegetables (packed in own juice)
  • Canned stew, chili, brown beans
  • Peanut butter (light)
  • Baby food (jars of chicken, beef, vegetable or fruit, infant cereal such as oatmeal, barley or rice; formula with added iron)
  • Whole grain/wheat pasta
  • Rice (brown, converted or parboiled)
  • Canned spaghetti sauce or tomatoes
  • Cereal — high fibre, non-sugar coated
  • Canned soup — lentil, pea, vegetable

Maybe it’s their bland colour, or you boil them, or your mother told you they were good for you. Whatever the reason, not a lot of us relish the parsnip. But this long-storage vegetable, cooked creatively produces delicious soups and side dishes. Don’t believe me? Try these recipes and see what you think.

Maple parsnips

  • 1-1/3 c. parsnips, thickly sliced
  • 1 c. medium carrots, cut into julienne strips
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan, cook parsnips and carrots, covered, in a small amount of boiling, salted water for five to seven minutes or until vegetables are tender. Drain well. Meanwhile, for glaze, in a medium saucepan; combine maple syrup, butter, mustard and nutmeg. Bring just to boiling. Stir in cooked parsnips and carrots. Cook about one minute or until glazed. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Apple, parsnip and sweet potato crumble

I made this recipe and found it took about 20 minutes preparation time, plus cooking time. The unsweetened apple juice I used made it a little tart. You might want to consider sautéing half a mild onion to add to the mix. This is a very pretty dish and makes a great addition to a potluck supper.

  • 4 c. parsnips, cut into large chunks
  • 4 c. sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1-1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 c. apple juice
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • Salt/pepper to taste
  • 1 c. fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/3 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/3 c. cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar

In a large saucepan; combine parsnips, sweet potatoes, broth and apple juice. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium low, cooking for 10 minutes. Partially uncover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain off all but 1/2 cup of the broth. Mash vegetables. Meanwhile, in large skillet; heat butter over medium-high heat. Add apples. Cook, stirring occasionally, for three to four minutes. Sprinkle on thyme, salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring often, for two to four minutes or until apples are caramelized and soft. Stir apples into mashed vegetables. Pour into greased baking dish. In a medium bowl; add bread crumbs, walnuts, cheese, melted butter and brown sugar. Toss until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over vegetables. Bake in preheated 375 F oven for 30 minutes or until golden. Serves 8.

Easy parsnip potatoes

  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 lb. parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan; add potatoes, parsnips and water to cover. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Mash with potato masher. Add milk, butter, salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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