As families and friends gather this holiday season, enjoying tasty treats and succulent delicacies, it's appropriate to consider all there is to be thankful for this year.
It's loved ones nearby, safe housing, a steady income, or even enough food. The access to nourishment cannot be overstated, as Leuba Franko, a volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest, knows all too well.
"Most of us are two paycheques away from the food bank," says Franko, a passionate social justice activist and retired high school teacher. She wrote a book to help middle school children ages 9 to 13 better understand the many connections between job loss, the economy, the impacts upon family and the purpose of food banks.
As a volunteer, Franko met with Grade 6 students, teaching them about the work of the food-distribution and training centre. Winnipeg Harvest is a non-profit organization that distributes food to 330 agencies across Manitoba, including Siloam Mission and Agape Table. They also offer life- and job-training resources.
"Our goals are to walk alongside and feed hungry families, while at the same time providing them with the tools they need to become self-sufficient through mentoring and job training," says Chris Albi, Winnipeg Harvest communications co-ordinator.
Franko realized, through her volunteer work, the importance of engaging youth in the discussion surrounding food banks and food security. "A lot of children in this age group read mostly fantasy books. It's important to give them background on why food banks exist, because it can be a complicated subject."
The book, titled The Food Bank Mystery, follows the lives of two best friends, Natalie and Jason, whose families struggle to make ends meet. Natalie's father, a postman and immigrant to Winnipeg, may have to go on strike. Jason's father, a widower, loses his job at a meat-packing plant and must attend a food bank in order to feed his family. Natalie decides to use her detective skills to learn more about food banks.
Aside from the historical research that went into the creation of the story, many of the characters in Franko's book are based on people she has met while volunteering, including David Northcott, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest, and June Gilason, who has run the Unitarian Universalist Food Bank for 20 years.
Franko has spent her retirement involved in a myriad of causes around the city, including volunteering at Art City every Friday making soup for children, who kindly refer to her as the "Soup Angel." She also leads the Winnipeg chapter of the Raging Grannies, using her writing skills to pen songs about peace, social justice, human rights and the environment.
Franko says she believes in the South African philosophy of Ubunto. "Exercise the goodness you were born with," she recites while smiling.
Her gift to the community this season is using her writing to bring about awareness and a deeper understanding of our connectedness through The Food Bank Mystery. The book is available for $15 at McNally Robinson or Winnipeg Harvest. It can also be ordered as a class set for schools, with classroom activities and questions, and can be used in ESL classrooms. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Winnipeg Harvest.
To learn more about Winnipeg Harvest and how to get involved, visit winnipegharvest.org.
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin at firstname.lastname@example.org.