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Fighting For Scraps

By Sean Condon

Monday December 3, 2007

Outside of The Door is Open, the catholic charity on East Cordova, Mike Blenkhorn stands in the sun munching on some soup and a bun. Blenkhorn has been coming to The Door is Open for the past decade for prepared meals and canned food, but the recent decision by the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society to close down its food bank at the charity has made things more difficult for the Downtown Eastside resident to get fed.

“It’s a real pain,” he says, in between bites of food. “Now I have to go on my bike to get to another food bank, or I just don’t go.”

Last month the Food Bank closed its depot at The Door is Open, it’s only in the Downtown Eastside, because it felt that most of the people in the neighborhood did not have access to kitchen facilities to prepare their own meals. However, the Food Bank’s move has upset many in the Downtown Eastside who feel they’ve lost an important resource.

“There are a lot of families in the Downtown Eastside,” says Blenkhorn, “and they need to be able to prepare their own meals instead of being dependent on others to make their meals for them. Even those that live in [Single Room Occupancy hotels] have access to a hotplate and can cook their own food.”

While there are still lots of places in the neighborhood where people can get free or cheap meals, the food bank’s decision to close shop has taken the community by surprise. Julia Ruggier, who runs The Door is Open, says her regulars are complaining that the nearest food bank is too far. Now if residents want to access a food bank they have to go east of Clark.

But Cheryl Prepchuck, the executive director of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, says it’s just a matter of re-prioritizing its services. Prepchuk says since most people in the neighborhood don’t have ability to prepare their own food, the Food Bank has decided to give The Door is Open more food for prepared meals. So while there is no food bank at The Door is Open, the number of meals it prepares a week has increased from roughly 60 to 1,000. The Food Bank has also increased its food delivery program and doubled its resources for community kitchens in the neighborhood.

“What we’re tying to do is get people meals that are more nutritious and through community kitchen programs address people’s isolation challenges,” says Prepchuck.

However, the compensation is not sitting well with many in the Downtown Eastside. A petition is being circulated around the neighborhood by Rob Morgan from the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society asking for the food bank to be reinstated.

“We understand that the Food Bank gave 1000 more meals and support to community kitchens in exchange,” the petition states. “However, we have our own cooking facilities and rely on the food bank donations so we don’t have to stand in lineups for soup or be in community kitchen groups in order to feed ourselves. We do not have bus fare to get to the nearest food bank outlet at the Longhouse on Franklin Street (back of London Drugs on Hastings).”

The closure has caused a great deal of anger and panic in the neighbourhood from people who already feel besieged by the dual forces of poverty and gentrification. While having access to a food bank can already be difficult for many people, at least they have a sense of normalcy by taking the food home and preparing it themselves. Despite the angry calls she’s received, Prepchuck insists there is no ulterior motive for closing the food bank down. Regardless, the move has now pitted many in the neighborhood against the food bank, which should be a natural ally, and forced the community to fight over scraps.