Engaging Youth to Help End Food Insecurity

HelpingHands Steinbach Food BankHungry No More is a new project in the Steinbach area aiming to educate youth about the causes and consequences of food insecurity and engage them in developing strategies to help eradicate hunger in the community.

“The youth are the future and will champion to advocate for and make a change going forward; that’s why we felt it was so important to engage them,” says Dennis Coley, a volunteer with Steinbach Helping Hands Food Bank, who helped plan the project.

Last February, the project kicked off with a two-day workshop attended by 26 students from the Hanover School Division, which gave them some real-life experience of food insecurity. Organized by the Steinbach Helping Hands Food Bank, Positive Living Program and Healthy Living staff from Southern Health-Santé Sud, the workshop featured speakers that had experienced homelessness, poverty and food insecurity firsthand. But the power was in the hands-on activities that put the students firmly into these people’s shoes.
“Once we recognize where people are coming from, even if we’re not in that experience, it helps to promote compassion and understanding,” says Leigh Finney, Healthy Living Facilitator with Southern Health Santé-Sud which provided some funding for the workshop through its Healthy Together Now grant.

Food insecurity hits home for students
Grade 11 student, Sophia Stang, already volunteers at the Food Bank. She says the Food Bank day simulation gave her the experience of being on the other side of the table and that really struck home for her. “We were each given a different scenario. I was a man who’d had a stroke and had a long way to walk to the food bank. I was also collecting food for a neighbour too, so I had to take lots of bags, walk to the food bank and then come back,” says Stang. “What really hit me was the fact that when I was walking down the street there were a few people walking past me avoiding eye contact, and nobody offered to help.”

In another activity, each student received a paper bag containing candies they had to exchange with each other to get four of the same colour and claim a prize. People were successful or not based on what their bags contained and the willingness of others to share or help out. “It was a good demonstration of privilege because not everyone is starting off at the same place, and that has an impact on the rest of their life,” says Finney.
Food insecurity has a negative impact on physical, mental and social health and an adult or child living with food insecurity is more vulnerable to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, asthma, depression and diabetes.

Wanting to make a difference
Stang and Nancy Runkowsky are two of a group of five students who have signed up for the second phase of the project. They are currently working to redevelop the Helping Hands Food Bank website and build a Facebook page as part of a strategy to promote more community education and awareness about food insecurity. “I got involved because I wanted to make a difference, and even if it’s a really small part, I want to do something to help the people in our community that are living with food insecurity,” says Runkowsky. “My goal is that these people know that there are people who care about them and that they have hope.”
Stang’s involvement comes straight from the heart. ‘I feel for the people that aren’t in the situation and given the opportunities that I am, and I want to help the community make this situation better in the future,” says Stang, who hopes to continue as a mentor in the program in future years after she graduates.

“The fact that we have got five young people who are interested in working on a project is positive and, longer term, we hope they will be advocates for change and the end result will be decreasing numbers at the Food Bank,” says Coley.