Combines may be busy on the field, but Farm Credit Canada (FCC) is occupied with a different kind of harvest.
This year marks 14 years of FCC’s Drive Away Hunger campaign, a joint fundraising and food drive held nationally by FCC each fall in support of Food Banks Canada.
The program launched Sept. 6 and will run until Oct. 13.
Carla Warnyca, FCC manager of community investment, says the campaign hopes to gather five million meals’ worth of food and financial donations nationwide this year.
Last year, the campaign provided food banks with over 6.7 million meals, including just over 298,000 from Manitoba. FCC counts each pound of food collected as a meal and every $1 donation as three meals.
“We’re just lucky,” Warnyca said. “We’re in this unique position because we serve only agriculture, so you sort of connect the people who grow the food with the people who really need it the most, so we’re trying to be really deliberate about doing that in whatever way is the most helpful.”
FCC estimates that over 33 million meals have gone to food banks since it introduced the program in 2004.
Fifty-four organizations and businesses threw support behind the campaign last year, up one over 2015’s 53. This year is on track to meet those levels, Warnyca said, although only 44 partners have signed on so far.
“Some schools will sign up before the school year ends and others wait because, you know, they might have a change in principals or teachers or whoever is getting involved, so it’s not uncommon at all for them to be signing up for the next couple of weeks as they sort of get organized for the school year,” she said.
Co-op stores around the province will tie in with Drive Away Hunger after their parent organization, Federated Co-op, once again joined FCC as a national partner.
Reg Clarke, Heritage Co-op food division manager, says their 2017 campaign will be similar to past years.
A fundraising barbecue was held at one Brandon location while ‘hunger bags’ have returned at Heritage Co-op food stores. The preloaded grocery bags can be bought for $10 to $50, with all contents going to Drive Away Hunger.
“We’re also thinking that this year as well, we’re trying to tie in to get our cross-promotion with the Wheat Kings,” Clarke said.
The Western Hockey League team historically teams up with Heritage Co-op each year to collect food and financial donations during an early-season game in October.
In central Manitoba, meanwhile, 4-H clubs in Morden and Winkler will once again go door to door to collect food items.
In Steinbach, one of the campaign’s stalwart supporting regions, schools are once again joining in force. The community typically holds a large family day and barbecue to drive up support, according to Warnyca.
BDO, Parrish & Heimbecker, The Meat Factory Limited, Windset Farms, Nutrigroup, Broadgrain Commodities Inc. and Saskatchewan’s South West Terminal are also among this year’s national partners while Little Morden Service, two law offices, Macdon Industries, Swan Valley Co-op, accounting firm GTP and WiBand Communications have joined at the provincial level in Manitoba.
“It’s looking really good,” Warnyca said. “Every year’s a little bit different, but we’ve had great participation. The people in Manitoba are very generous and we’ve got terrific partners across the country, so we’re really lucky that people just pull together and help every year.”
Food Banks Canada estimates that 860,000 Canadians use their facilities each month, 36 per cent of whom are children. Of all food banks in Canada, about 600 are rural, the national organization said.
“FCC Drive Away Hunger has achieved so much for so many people since its inception,” Katharine Schmidt, Food Banks Canada executive director, said in a news release launching the program this year. “This inspiring campaign brings together communities to raise food and funds that help thousands of Canadians who are struggling to get enough to eat. Food Banks Canada is grateful for FCC’s continued support in addressing hunger and supporting the food bank network across Canada.”
While the campaign is already underway, Warnyca says the hunt for partners and participating schools is still on. Links to join or contribute to the campaign are available from the FCC website.
Local FCC offices have thrown support behind school meal programs in the past, including breakfast programs in central Manitoba’s Pembina Valley last year.
This year, that contribution has gone national. One hundred schools received $1,000 each for a total $100,000 donation to kick off Drive Away Hunger 2017. Local FCC offices chose schools to receive the funds.
“We’ve realized that the need is so great,” Warnyca said. “Food banks do amazing things and there’s also feeding programs that are doing great things to help out hungry people. We thought there was a real need in schools as well. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough funding often to feed all the kids who can come hungry.”