Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue box recycle bins now help the hungry

Winnipeg Harvest uses them to deliver food

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WINNIPEGGERS have donated hundreds -- and possibly even thousands -- of old blue boxes that will be used by a city food bank to deliver emergency hampers, store food and help people grow vegetables.

The City of Winnipeg recently partnered with Winnipeg Harvest in an effort to find a way for citizens to recycle unwanted blue boxes after the city-wide changeover from manual garbage and recycling collection to automated carts. Saturday marked the third day this month residents could drop off their blue boxes to donate to Winnipeg Harvest.

Donald Benham, Harvest's director of hunger and poverty awareness, said the blue boxes will be put to good use and save the organization from having to purchase similar containers. The blue boxes are less bulky than the current containers Harvest uses to collect a "tin for the bin" at community events, Benham said, and will be used to expand the organization's blue box gardening program, which helps children and families in need grow everything from corn and beans to squash and tomatoes.

City officials estimate there are 500,000 blue boxes across Winnipeg and the average home has two.

"We're always amazed by the generosity of Winnipeggers," Benham said, noting Harvest hasn't tallied the donations but the number of blue boxes is possibly in the thousands. "This is something people are giving to us out of the goodness of their heart. It's just one more thing we'll be able to put to good use."

The donations come at a time of year when Winnipeg Harvest says many local families are struggling to afford to pay for food. Benham said November and December are tough months and the need for help could grow.

A recent report by Food Banks Canada found Manitoba has the highest per capita use of food banks as more people who can't afford to buy food are turning to them for help. The report said more than 63,000 Manitobans could not afford to buy food last March and used a food bank or soup kitchen -- a 14 per cent increase from the previous year.

Earlier this week, a Statistics Canada report found the cost of living increased in Manitoba in September, as residents are spending more money for things such as gasoline and mortgage insurance. The agency said Manitoba's annual inflation rate rose to 1.7 per cent from 1.6 per cent in August.

Benham said Winnipeg Harvest has called for an increase to welfare rates because the cost of housing has increased substantially over the last decade. He compared the cost of housing and found shelter costs increased 65 per cent in Winnipeg between 1997 and 2012. Benham said Harvest officials routinely hear people tell them they had to take money out of their food budget to pay for shelter.

"We hear that from people on welfare and also the working poor, people trying to feed their families on minimum wage," Benham said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 25, 2012 A3

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