This article was published 21/11/2015 (1424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The numbers are sobering.
Nearly 1 in 20 people in Manitoba used a food bank in March, and almost one in 10 children, according to Hunger Count 2015, an annual report on food bank use that was released earlier this week.
And nowhere in Canada is food-bank use higher.
In Manitoba, one-fifth of food bank users came from single-parent families, and more than one-third were single people. More than half rely primarily on social assistance for their income. About one in eight people who used a food bank said they primarily have income from a job, and a similar number draw most of their income from a pension.
Winnipeg Harvest knows those numbers all too well.
In 1985, its first year of operations, Harvest served 4,420 people. In 2014-15, it served more than 60,000. Nearly 45 per cent are children.
That includes people in all parts of the province. Harvest drives as far north as Lynn Lake (weather permitting) to deliver food to social agencies.
More than 337,000 volunteer hours – the equivalent of 162 full-time jobs – have been logged at Harvest this year alone. There were 5,800 volunteer hours logged in its first year, back when Harvest called a re-purposed St. Boniface brewery home. It is now located on Winnipeg Avenue just north of McPhillips Street.
But those are just the statistics. There are an equal number of stories. Here are 30 of them as Winnipeg Harvest marks its 30th anniversary.
IT wasn’t supposed to take this long.
David Northcott, the executive director of Winnipeg Harvest, said he never planned to celebrate 30 years at the non-profit food bank.
He thought Harvest would stick around for five years, maybe — seven or eight at most. Just until the Canadian economy rebounded after a mid-’80s crash.
Northcott planned to go back to working at a bank, but instead, 2015 marks a bittersweet birthday.
"We still say that our goal is to not be in the community," Northcott said. "So that’s why we’re so happy and sad. We’re delighted that what we’ve done has been able to move food to hungry families for a long time, because families have been hungry for a long time.
"The only reason we’re still here is because families are saying, ‘We’re not ready for you to go yet.’"
The need for food has only grown since Harvest incorporated on July 1, 1985, founder Lee Newton’s birthday.
Newton was working as a graphic designer at the Winnipeg Art Gallery when she decided she ought to help stave off hunger in the city.
She’d seen a documentary on television about New York’s City Harvest, an operation that salvaged surplus food, effectively redirecting edible goods that would otherwise get dumped and saving starving stomachs.
"Lee thought, ‘Wow. Why can’t we do something like that in Winnipeg?’" Northcott said. "Every once in a while, people get a spiritual itch in their lives and this was one itch that she scratched for the whole rest of her life."
Newton approached local philanthropists with the idea and they pointed her toward Northcott, who was working at the Broadway Optimist Community Centre at the time. The pair had coffee at the art gallery and fleshed out the concept.
Newton died in 2014, but got to witness most of Harvest’s snowballing successes: Grow a Row, Tin for the Bin at Winnipeg Blue Bombers games, Kids Who Care, Tools for School, Hunger for Hope, More Than Shoes and Empty Bowls in Schools, to name just a few.
What started as a single woman’s inkling to make change has directly impacted tens of thousands of people.
IN 1985, Judith McFarland was one of Harvest’s very first volunteers, but if she’d had her way, she might never have shown up.
McFarland had incurred somewhere between $600 and $800 in parking tickets on her car, thanks to some "friends" who rang them up without her knowing.
So to pay for the tickets, she did the fine-option program (which no longer exists in Winnipeg), swapping volunteer hours for paying fines. After six months at Harvest, she didn’t want to leave.
She stayed and helped co-found Harvest’s referral program, jotting down callers’ information on 3x5 index cards and filing them appropriately.
The administrative experience she gained at Harvest helped her earn jobs at the Health Sciences Centre and the St. Boniface Hospital, where she works now.
She never had to use a food bank and wishes no one had to.
"I mean, people would be able to make ends meet, probably, if the ends wouldn’t keep moving further apart. If the cost of living goes up and wages don’t go up, what are you going to do, right?" McFarland said.
As one of Harvest’s original board members, Bryan Stone remembers trying to convince local grocers to donate to the fledgling food bank. Almost no one had heard of Harvest in the ’80s and a board of about a half dozen strived to get the word out.
"I remember the days of arguing with various companies — ‘Why are you throwing your food out? Donate it to Winnipeg Harvest!’ " Stone said.
He worked as a broadcaster for Corus Radio, later becoming the general manager of the Corus stations in the 2000s. Stone has since retired, but said having that little bit of notoriety on the radio helped bolster the cause.
Media mentions and word of mouth have always been Harvest’s bread and butter when it comes to advertising, he said.
The non-profit has never accepted government funding, except for a grant for its capital rebuild project in 2012 for its new location.
Ann Ledwich grew up in England during the Second World War, so she knew what it was like to go hungry as a child.
As a receptionist at Harvest — and the volunteer with the second longest stay in Harvest’s history — she doesn’t think life-threatening hunger should exist in Winnipeg.
"I mean, how strange! I understand why we were short on food (in England). We were going through war years; we were on rations," Ledwich said.
She understands the pain felt by some of the guests, who come in to Harvest upset.
"I’d talk to them, settle them down and then make sure they get on the list for food every two weeks, as long as they need it," Ledwich said.
Her family has always had a philanthropic bent (her husband works with Amnesty International and her son at the United Way Winnipeg), so it’s no surprise she quotes one of her favourite documents, the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, as the reason she volunteers at Harvest.
"Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food," Ledwich said.
Mike Owen is retired and living in Sandy Hook now, but in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he helped foster the relationship between Harvest and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, putting together snacks for the after-school programs.
Working for the Boys & Girls Clubs, he saw a staggering number of children going hungry, he said. Manitoba remains the child poverty capital of Canada today.
Many of the kids who participated during his tenure only came because they knew they would get fed, which was absolutely fine, Owen said.
He remembered one day when staff hesitated about whether to open a large can of broccoli soup for the kids, knowing they might not like it and it might go to waste.
"Anyway, they decided to make it and of course they had this big tin… (like) what they serve at a restaurant," Owen said. "And the kids ate it up. They made another one and the kids ate that up. And then I think we sort of realized just exactly how desperate those kids were for food."
The saying "like mother, like daughter" rang true for the Walsh family. Both Meeka and Sherri Walsh have served on the Harvest Volunteer Board of Directors, Meeka in the ’80s and Sherri in the late ’90s and 2000s.
"I remember using the Yellow Pages to track down inexpensive shelving for food storage," Meeka said of her early days on the board.
"By the time I was a board member, we were looking for more space and a bigger building," Sherri said.
As board chairwoman, Sherri helped oversee the capital fundraising campaign that led to Harvest’s move to its current building.
Neither woman volunteers at Harvest now — Sherri works as a human rights lawyer and Meeka is the editor of Border Crossings magazine — but they look forward to building hearty hampers to donate to the food bank over the holidays every year.
"It’s with great pleasure that you go to the store, grateful that you’re able to do this and that you’re not reliant on the kindness of strangers," Meeka said. "Although Harvest is far from a community of strangers. It really is like a family."
The Yaskiws never had to use Harvest, but when they retired, they wanted to find a way to give back and the food bank was it.
The couple volunteers weekly at Harvest, Joan working at the reception desk and Marcel doing maintenance. They also help out weekly at a food bank near their home on St. Mary’s Road.
They’ve been volunteering for 15 years and said it’s strengthened their relationship to work toward a common goal.
"The secret here is you have people from different faiths, different backgrounds, different work situations, all working together for a common factor and I think that’s most rewarding," Marcel said.
"We’ve been very lucky and it’s an opportunity to do something for those who haven’t had the breaks, who aren’t as lucky as we are," Joan added.
The Yaskiws said Harvest has reinforced their belief that everyone should be treated with dignity.
"For sure (Harvest) is giving charity and it would be nice to see us gone," Joan said. "But until the day comes that everyone is treated justly and fairly and has the same opportunities that we’ve had, it’ll have to do."
Ron O’Donovan brought two ongoing Harvest projects to fruition with his wife, Eunice, who died four years ago this month.
In 1986, they started the Grow a Row project, encouraging gardeners to plant one extra row of produce to donate to Harvest each year.
The idea stemmed from O’Donovan having too many leftover potatoes in his own garden.
"I would come up the back lane and I was like the Dickie Dee ice cream guy. I would give out vegetables, like, ‘What do you need tonight? Beans? Carrots?’ The whole nine yards to my neighbours," he said. "At the end of the gardening season in 1986, I ended up with two 75-pound bags of potatoes."
Those potatoes went to Harvest — to date, there have been more than 1,291,367 kilograms of produce collected through Grow a Row.
In 2000, the O’Donovans started Kids Who Care, a program recognizing youth who volunteer in their communities with awards every April. It was inspired by the philanthropic efforts of their granddaughter, Aynsley, who asked that her friends donate to Harvest, rather than give her gifts for her ninth birthday. So far, 752 kids have received Kids Who Care awards.
Rebecca Trudeau encouraged her mom, Kerry Weyman, to volunteer at Harvest. Weyman, a single mother of three, used the food bank to feed her family in the ’90s. Now the mother and daughter are able to give back, unlike before.
Trudeau, a community development grad from Red River College, started as Harvest’s Tools for School co-ordinator in 2013, collecting school supplies to distribute to kids from low-income families. While she was at school during the day, her mom would help with the program. But Trudeau pushed her to go volunteer on her own.
Weyman has schizo-affective disorder and struggled to hold down a steady job. She found Harvest was different, as she began volunteering at reception and coming in every day by 8:30 a.m.
"Now I know almost everybody’s name that’s in the building," Weyman said. "I’ve gained confidence, skills that I never knew I had. I get complimented a lot and that in itself is why I come every day. Not just because I enjoy it, but because everyone just really makes me feel good about myself."
Trudeau is there nearly every day, too, working as a youth programs associate. She hosts school tours at Harvest and does poverty-awareness presentations in the community.
"What I experienced growing up was hard, so what I’m doing now is trying to change that — change the fact that children are going through poverty and hunger," Trudeau said. "I don’t feel like any other child should be going through that."
Cara Thom applied for food bank assistance for the first time at 17 when she "AWOL-ed from Child and Family Services" and started couch surfing.
She’s battled anxiety and depression, and has been estranged from her family since she was a teen.
Thom said she found some kindred souls while volunteering at Harvest.
Now in her 30s, she’s gotten a job as a cashier at Safeway. She used to make meals for volunteers in the Harvest kitchen and helped run the food bank’s Community Kitchen program, teaching others to cook.
"(At Harvest), I definitely felt accepted, having a mental illness and getting to know other people that do who (also) volunteer there. They have their own problems — not the same, but similar. So you don’t feel like you’re out of place. You feel like a big family, eventually," Thom said.
Being a cashier and scanning food that used to be hard to come by is a bit ironic, she admits.
She said it seems many people aren’t spending as much on groceries these days.
Becky Froese’s volunteer experience at Harvest helped her land her first restaurant job as a prep cook.
With encouragement from her uncle, she started volunteering in the Harvest sorting department shortly after being diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. She wound up staying on, volunteering in various roles, for 10 years.
Being around so many people at Harvest was a new and somewhat daunting experience at first.
"I was under a lot of depression and I was in my shell. It was painful. It was actually borderline suicidal depression. I had no one who I could really communicate with properly," she said. "Over time, I could actually start talking to people and it eased me up."
Froese took cooking classes at Harvest and went on to attend culinary school at Red River College.
"I started actually getting a little bit of a feel about whether I could actually start cooking (at Harvest)," she said. "I hadn’t seriously considered it as a job at that point."
Working in the kitchen keeps her brain busy and challenged, which is important for her mental health, Froese said.
Her stress levels have gotten better and she said she feels much more relaxed.
The Verri family recently emigrated from the Philippines and Harvest has helped them establish roots in Winnipeg.
Father and son, Emmanuel and Edgardo, used Harvest’s Asper Learning and Friendship Village for skills-based training to find jobs. Edgardo didn’t have to hunt very far. He now trains others at Harvest on computer programs such as Microsoft Office.
Emmanuel got a job as a transit bus driver thanks to interview prep he did with an employment counsellor at Harvest, he said.
Like many new Canadians, the Verris were looking for volunteer experience to add to their resumés. The immigration centre, Manitoba Start, referred them to Harvest.
"We heard there’s a lot of great opportunities here to volunteer, training and food banks. So we definitely benefit from those things that Manitoba Start said. It seems like they were true," Edgardo said, jokingly.
The Verris also got their forklift licences at Harvest and used the bi-weekly food bank service while they got their footing.
A cousin sponsored their trip to Canada, so they were grateful to be able to give back to them.
"It’s really embarrassing at first because (family) was providing us food. So we just wanted to give them help in terms of food… We really appreciated their help, but we still want to help and give something," Edgardo said.
Now the Verris direct other immigrant families to Harvest’s training classes and, in Edgardo’s case, coach them first-hand.
When she came to Canada with her four-year-old son, Jane Moses wasn’t sure where they’d wind up, but Harvest wasn’t on the radar.
Moses fled from Sudan during a civil war. She’s a Christian and refused to convert to Islam. She was jailed for seven days for taking a stance.
After a relative bailed her out, Moses left for Egypt.
Fifteen years later, her green card application came through and a church sponsored her and her son to come to Canada. Her son’s father stayed behind.
"I like it, but during the winter it’s very, very cold. But I get used to it," she said, with a laugh.
Moses began volunteering at Harvest to gain work experience and after a year, accepted a part-time job as a caretaker.
She’s still in school taking English classes and her son, now 16, is in high school.
"When I came here, Winnipeg Harvest was a little bit small. This building was not here, it was on the other side," she said referring to Harvest’s old spot in St. B. "It was small, but I liked it. It’s good. Everybody’s friendly to me.
"It’s a nice place, by the way," she said, grinning.
Former long-haul truck driver Bernie Krahn had to retire early because of his deteriorating health. But he still trucks around the Harvest warehouse twice a week, co-ordinating all the food-order pickups with the 387 agencies that use Harvest.
Krahn gets by on his disability pension, but between him and his wife, it isn’t much to survive on. Especially when he’s figured out that his medication costs more per year than what the couple spends on food — $4,500 per year versus $3,500.
"I think right now the biggest problem is people don’t have really enough to live on," Krahn said. "Between my wife and me, we have about $2,500 a month to live on. That’s having to pay rent, having to pay telephone, cable. I also have a high medication bill."
He does some pretty heavy labour at Harvest — on this day, he’s hauled four orders of food out the door by 9 a.m., each of them weighing about 90 kilograms – but Krahn doesn’t want to slow down. Being at Harvest, busy and among friends, keeps him motivated.
Plus he has a reputation for his creative costumes to uphold. He’s been the warehouse leprechaun, Grim Reaper and Santa Claus.
"I make fun of (the work) to make it easy for everyone. Otherwise you can say I’d be going nutty," he joked.
It was the day after Thanksgiving when Irene Williams relayed her Harvest story alongside one of her best friends, David Northcott.
"I love being here. It’s like a second home, really. It’s like a big giant family — David’s giant family," she said, with a laugh.
Originally from Brokenhead First Nation, Williams moved to Winnipeg in 1996 with her two kids and her two sisters, all of whom have volunteered at Harvest before.
Williams volunteers in the bread room, sorting loaves and pastries by expiry date.
She shows up to Harvest every day, ready to help and talk with whoever’s around.
"I feel better about myself because I know when I come, I know a lot of people are eating because of us here," she said.
"She’s a gifted spirit who’s pretty wise and has the gift of speaking and listening," Northcott chimed in.
"She has that sense of really knowing how to work and she’s also got a great insight of when things aren’t working well for the system, for welfare. She’s able to really respectfully name some of the problems and we’ve learned a lot from her."
Joey-Jane Hyltun’s friend took her to Harvest to volunteer seven years ago. She wound up outstaying the friend and bringing another of her own to help her assemble the gluten-free kits Harvest distributes to those with celiac disease.
Hyltun also gets food from Harvest once every two weeks.
She lives with her cat, Daisy, in a Manitoba Housing complex in the North End.
"My pension isn’t all that great, so what I get from Harvest helps me so that I don’t have to go and pay for it. So the money that I have, I can go and get meat, because meat, you know, it’s expensive now," she said.
Hyltun also represents Harvest at events around the city and enjoys meeting people to talk about poverty and seniors’ issues.
Before taking early retirement because of a broken ankle, she worked for 40 years in a sewing factory.
She was on welfare until she was able to start collecting old-age security pension at 60.
"That’s what I’ve been on ever since. It’s not that great… I don’t even get $2,000 a month," Hyltun said. "I guess you can say I also have compassion for people, especially seniors, because now seniors — more seniors — are starting to use the food bank."
As soon as he retired, he got bored, Dave Mouland admits from his office at Harvest.
He’s volunteered there now for seven or eight years, moving from the sortation department, to the call centre, to his latest post in the public advocacy office.
At 63, Mouland had a major heart attack during a volunteer meeting at Harvest.
"I was telling them, ‘Don’t call an ambulance because I can’t pay for it,’" he said. "I’m not the only one. There are a lot of people at old folks homes, that kind of thing, where we just can’t afford that."
Mouland wound up having triple bypass surgery and coming home to a huge ambulance bill of $875, which Harvest paid.
He’s been to the hospital nine times since, mostly because of fluid build-up in his lungs, and he always calls a cab or gets a neighbour to drive him.
Mouland holds the government to account at Harvest, speaking frankly to the media on issues including ambulance fees, public transit, the need for winter roads in the North and regulating milk costs.
"How is it possible that the government of the day can set the price of alcohol at whatever it is and that price is the same throughout the province… yet the price of milk is $20 for a two-litre (up north)?" Mouland said.
Margaret Pondo came to Harvest nine years ago because she didn’t want to be alone after her husband died. She spent a year living on her own, not communicating much with the outside world, and craved a change.
Now a veteran volunteer in the referrals department, she fields between 400 and 600 calls per day, five days a week. She’s answered at least 250,000 calls since she started at Harvest.
Pondo said she likes being able to stay in one spot and work because she’s "not a coffee person, jumping around from place to place."
"Some calls there’s a language barrier. You have to listen carefully and try to help them out as much as you can," she said. "I’ve had five calls today (on Nov. 6) where they’ve only been in Winnipeg since Oct. 15."
At least one or two calls per day are "really destitute," where emotional callers need immediate help and need to be directed to emergency food services nearby, she said.
A retired kitchen cabinet designer and accountant, Pondo hasn’t had to use food banks.
"You feel how lucky you are, because you have health and you have food and housing, which a lot of these people don’t have. That’s what I’m here to help them with," she said.
Pondo won the Lee Newton Volunteer Award in May for her work at Harvest.
Tiffany Mamakeesic inadvertently founded her own role at Harvest while organizing the baby diapers and feminine hygiene products. Once a week, she cleaned up the personal-care section and now that’s become her main volunteer job.
When she started at Harvest five years ago, there were perhaps five or six agencies that took items from the personal-care section. Now there are 20, she said.
Mamakeesic said it feels strange taking on a leadership role, since she’d originally come to Harvest in a deep depression. She came after some coaxing from her mom who also volunteers.
"I’ve tried not to extend myself too much, like not have them rely on me too much for too many different things. Sometimes I’m still in my depression and I just want to stay home," she said.
Many at Harvest face similar mental-health situations. Their volunteer times can be flexible to accommodate their needs.
Mamakeesic also used to be homeless and talks about her own experiences during community presentations with the public advocacy office.
In talking with groups of kids, she said, she’s often surprised by their smart questions.
"One kid asked, ‘Why do you think it’s so tense down there (in the downtown area)?’ And I basically said it’s frustration. We’re all frustrated and it’s either (at) our workers, ourselves, our families, our friends. We’re all frustrated over something because we have to count on other people and we’ve had so many people let us down," Mamakeesic said.
Morgan Thomas hates charities, but works for Harvest as their agency liaison.
"In a society that is so wealthy, that considers itself to be one of the best countries in the world, we have third-world conditions right outside our doorstep," he said.
Thomas’s job involves matching social agencies with surplus food. If an extra semi-load of bananas were to come in, he would be on the phone trying to find places to put the produce.
He volunteered for three years at Harvest in various roles before accepting his current job, which he said gave him a new purpose in life after his family business folded.
Thomas is now an activist for the impoverished and a staunch advocate for living wages.
"The simple fact is that there’s a million people in Canada that are accessing food assistance and there are currently 60,000 people a month in Manitoba that are accessing food assistance. The question isn’t ‘Why has (Harvest) grown?’ It’s ‘Why have we been allowed to grow?’ " Thomas said.
"Until justice prevails, charity will rule the day," he added, with a sigh.
Since starting the Huron Carole concert series in 1987, Tom Jackson has raised nearly $250 million in cash and food services for food banks across Canada.
The singer-songwriter grew up in Winnipeg and now lives in Calgary.
In 1988, he dedicated proceeds from the Huron Carole to Winnipeg Harvest when he heard the new food bank was facing the threat of eviction in St. Boniface.
"We managed to raise enough money to keep the wolf from the door, so to speak," Jackson said.
For every dollar raised, Harvest is able to generate $20 in food services or food-purchasing power, so playing the Huron Carole shows proved very worthwhile, Jackson said.
"In a time that we’re all looking for value, it was simple. And I just got to do what I love doing, which was playing," he said.
This winter, the Huron Carole will tour 13 cities, raising money for Food Banks Canada, in which Harvest is a member. The Winnipeg show is Dec. 14 at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Jackson said the concert series feeds his soul.
"When I am privileged enough to work with food banks, I get a great reward from that. The reward that I get from that is incomparable and it’s what drives me," he said. "It becomes my oxygen. Without oxygen, I would die."
It took volunteering at Harvest in her first year of university for Shelley Cook to realize how bad the food bank situation in Winnipeg was.
She packed food kits alongside veteran social activist Nick Ternette, who died in 2013. He taught her a lot about poverty and politics, she said.
Cook grew up poor, but didn’t realize the gravity of her family’s situation until years later.
"We didn’t really know it, but as an adult looking back and hearing stories, it was crazy. There were times she (her mom) would feed us popcorn for supper because that was all we had in the cupboards," she said.
Now as a new mother, Cook hopes to instil a sense of philanthropy in her daughter, Riel.
Riel is still in diapers, but her mom would like to take her to volunteer at Harvest when she gets a little older.
"I know she’s likely going to have a privileged life – anything could happen, don’t get me wrong," Cook said. "But I always want her to work for what she has and give back for other people – to just have empathy and understanding."
Riel is already helping out in a roundabout way. Every time she grows into a new diaper size, Cook donates the too-small, unused diapers to Harvest.
If Shelley Sauvé got all the child support she needed, she would make half her monthly rent, she said.
The single mom has two sons, 19 and 13, who are both on the autism spectrum.
Her youngest also has muscular dystrophy and needs to stay active through dance, or else his muscles will ache and deteriorate.
Sauvé is a qualified teaching assistant and substitute teacher, who’s currently looking for steady work.
Harvest helps her family get by with some extra food every two weeks.
"As a teenager, I started at Harvest just as a way to survive. And when the kids were little, we started volunteering just as a way of giving back, to say thank you for helping us," Sauvé said. "It just made us feel better about ourselves, because taking handouts doesn’t help boost your self-esteem. Working for your handouts — so it’s no longer a handout, it’s a payment — that helps your self-esteem."
"I love all of the things they’ve been able to do there. It’s not just the getting food to those that are hungry… It’s let’s get them down here, let’s improve their lives, let’s get them a job," she said.
Her 19-year-old son is currently doing Harvest’s employment training program and hopes to get a job doing computer programming or ethical hacking.
Atticus McIlraith likes to come up with fundraising "schemes" with David Northcott when his mom isn’t in the room, he jokes.
The 12-year-old organized the Atticus McIlraith Baby Formula Drive in 2014.
"I’m just the type of kid who, when I hear something that I want to be passionate about, I pester my parents until they give in," McIlraith said. "It doesn’t matter what disability you have. I have Asperger’s, I have ADHD, but it doesn’t mean I can’t give."
In 2013, McIlraith heard Northcott talking about the lack of baby formula on Harvest’s shelves on the radio and took action.
Baby formula is the only food product Harvest buys, since it’s very expensive — usually costing around $30 per tin — and rarely gets donated.
McIlraith gave $1,500 in baby formula to Harvest during the 2013 Hunger for Hope campaign before starting his own formula drive, collecting about $10,000 in cash and formula in 2014.
He hopes to collect from new corners of the city this winter and spread awareness about the lesser-known cause.
"I think it might be about me wanting to also show other children that you can do it. There’s no one who can’t give," McIlraith said. "No baby should ever go hungry."
Accepting the five-day challenge of living on $3.96 per day opened the eyes of father and daughter Jon Ljungberg and Brittney Ljungberg-Thomas.
The pair has participated in Harvest’s Poverty Pledge every year from the time Brittney was about 10 years old. It’s a fundraising project designed to develop empathy. Participants survive on the same amount of money most single people living on welfare would have after paying their bills each month.
Grocery shopping becomes a whole new kind of monster when trying to balance nutrition and a meagre budget, Ljungberg said.
"You can see how people fall into the trap of bad nutrition. I mean, why is a Coke 70 cents, but a bottle of water is $1.75? Why is a salad $4, but a double cheeseburger is 50 cents on Wednesdays?" he asked. "It’s perpetuating a bad situation and they have no other choice."
Brittney got involved with Harvest after seeing her dad volunteer there during his time hosting Breakfast Television in the 2000s. She would volunteer every year on her birthday — Christmas Eve — rather than having a birthday party.
Now she’s a member of Harvest’s Hunger and Poverty Awareness Committee, which works alongside the provincial government to promote social justice. She also works as a server.
"I work in the higher-end food industry, so it’s always interesting to see the duality of it in the city where people will spend more than my rent on dinner," she said.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.