Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Winnipeg Harvest is celebrating its 35th anniversary, so we got in touch with David Northcott, the organization’s longest-serving executive director (1984-2017) to get some ‘campfire tales’ and significant events from his 30 years at the helm.
David has vivid memories of many helping hands and motivations from those times.
After listing the names of significant founders and contributors, David’s first story was not about food or money:
"I went to Alan Howison, the executive director of the Winnipeg Foundation. I wasn’t there for money, but to say, ‘Alan, your foundation is very intuitive; has good data and information.
What is your advice to a new non-profit opening for the first time?’
"Alan’s advice was: ‘Don’t ever become dependent on government money’."
Howison’s rationale was that government money comes with directives as to where it goes and how it gets there. Early on, money is hard to resist, but it would have disrupted the ‘macro-managed, inspired-by-shared-values, everybody pitches in’ style of operation envisioned to feed a community of hungry Manitobans.
Winnipeg Harvest took Alan’s advice to heart.
"We needed start-up funding, so one-third was raised from community donors and two-thirds came with a declining balance from the governments of Manitoba and Canada," David recalls.
"The declining balance arrangement forced us to be operating independent of government money after three years. And we did it."
Since that day, even in a pandemic, Harvest is the largest, most efficient food collection and distribution entity in the province. It is also the largest distribution network in Canada — supplying 300 food banks and agencies across Manitoba — without a cent of direct operational funding from government.
It may sound a little ‘hippie-ish’, but Harvest truly was a product of its time.
"The key conversation isn’t ‘Let’s do things for people.’ It’s ‘Let’s do things with people,’ David explains.
"At the beginning, we had little money, and the volunteers were our key, key players. Not just volunteers to volunteer, but people who were clients of the early food bank. It wasn’t them just ‘picking up my hamper’. It’s, ‘I’m picking up my hamper and I’m going to help make the next one. It’s not just about hunger of a body. It’s hunger of soul, you know? We’ve fostered that in all our relationships since day one.’"
It’s well known that when a person is dealing with their own vulnerability, the opportunity to help others can be a powerful factor in the process, breaking negative thought patterns and replacing them with more confident ones. The depth of benefits that flow from ‘working with’ came through again and again.
Harvest volunteers gained work experience pitching in, and they gained additional, transferrable skills by participating in Certified Food Handler training programs. Many who completed the courses have gone onto careers in the food and hospitality industry, including owning and running their own restaurants.
For 35 years, Harvest clients have become volunteers who became a community helping to provide food and caring to others in their community. The last part of the Harvest equation — those who give — is built on the same foundation. The ultimate reward is not the giving. It’s the feeling of community you get from helping others.
Most people never see a Harvest-supported family at the table when a food hamper is opened. If they did, they would bring a Tin for the Bin every time. Most people have never been rewarded by seeing how a kid with little access to food at home looks when they open a school meal or snack. That pay-off is anonymous, and that is the strength of the Harvest community.
We do it for others, and with others. And that’s just the way that David Northcott, founder Lee Newton and others who launched Harvest into our community 35 years ago, envisioned it.
Help celebrate 35 years of feeding the most vulnerable in our community. Your gift of just $35 per month will feed a struggling family this year. Please visit WinnipegHarvest.org/donate or call 204-982-3581 now.
For more information on Winnipeg Harvest and its programs, visit winnipegharvest.org
Winnipeg Harvest is a not-for-profit, community based organization. Our goals are to collect and share surplus food with people who are hungry and to offer training opportunities to help people step up and out of poverty. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for food banks in our community. For more information, visit winnipegharvest.org
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