Hungry to help the Burns Lake community

The Link sees yawning gaps in food security

The Link food truck

Winter feels a whole lot colder for those who can’t afford to put a morsel of food in their mouth, or the mouths of their children. The Lakes District Family Enhancement Society has been providing hampers and meals on an emergency basis for the past 30 years, and this is one of the worst they’ve ever seen.

“We’re quite busy,” said Scott Zayac, the understatement hanging weary in his voice. Zayac is the executive director of the society known around the community as The Link.

“There are the immediate food security issues, and that includes the country and actually the world, if you want to look at it that far. It is unprecedented in recent times. We deal with those issues on a weekly basis but then there are the long-term food security issues that we are also trying to tackle.”

There’s the old saying about “give someone a fish and they eat for a day; teach someone to fish and they eat for a lifetime.” The Link is doing both.

“We have a multi-pronged attack,” said Zayac. “We have the emergency food distributions like normal food banks do, giving out hampers or that kind of a thing, but we try to wrap supports around that and also introduce other programs to try and combat food insecurity in more of a systemic way.”

When people fall short of money, regardless of why, there comes a choice that must be made about which essentials must be addressed and which must be sacrificed: pay the rent or eat food? Keep the utilities on or have a meal? Feed the kids or feed oneself?

Sometimes that’s a short-term budget crisis. Sometimes it is a prolonged one. Even a week feels like an eternity to those involved. The reasons are myriad for lacking money at crunch time, and ultimately irrelevant when you’re facing the situation that very day.

“We have a lot of seniors on fixed income, a lot of people on disability who can’t have jobs due to health circumstances, a lot of families, lots of children, a lot of guys pull up wearing hardhats, and we don’t ask them what their situation is. If someone comes to the centre and says they need help, we help them. We treat everyone the same. People sometimes tell us anecdotally, yeah, I’m working three jobs, but I just can’t make the rent this month.”

The good news, said Zayac, is “we have kind of plateaued.” The bad news is, since a surge in need during the wildfires of 2018, followed by the pandemic, followed by shipping network logjams and war in Ukraine and other factors trickling down to local reality, that plateau is frighteningly steep.

The Link had about 1,100 people access food services, this past year. The Burns Lake population is only about 1,700 people and the hub region has a few thousand more – a staggering percentage of the area’s population going sometimes hungry, if not all the time.

The short-term, very necessary help The Link could use includes volunteers to do everything from play cards with seniors to help fill hampers. Donations of food and other essentials are always appreciated but the most important and easiest to leverage into even more return on investment is good old cash. Money is the most impactful tool in The Firm’s battle against local hunger and poverty. This issue persists all year round, but Christmas is when people are particularly apt to give, and it’s the kind of gift the whole community is hungry for.

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