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Harvest Manitoba; 37 Years of Giving Back

Since 1985, Harvest Manitoba, formerly Winnipeg Harvest, has grown to become a household name for Manitobans. Harvest Manitoba is a province-wide food bank that supplies food and workplace training to thousands of Manitobans every day. 

Harvest Manitoba has expanded its horizons over the years, helping those in Winnipeg and working with more than 380 food banks and related agencies across the province to help people access food at no charge. Their most substantial move was joining forces with the Manitoba Association of Food Banks. This coalition makes their operation the 4th largest food distributor in Canada.

According to Harvest Manitoba, 109,000 Manitobans use their services, over 47,000 per month, and 49 per cent of those helped by Harvest and their associated food banks are children. 

“We distribute over a million pounds of food per month. That includes food distributed to our food banks, daycare partners, Meals2Go, meal snack programs, school programs, and soup kitchens,” Stephanie Mikos, communications lead from Harvest Manitoba, said. 

The Meals2Go program, which supports 2,600 children every week through the school year, is a breakfast program giving kids food to take home on the weekend. As these are the two days students cannot have the school lunch program, the purpose is to create access to nutritious food for kids who may not have regular access to a proper diet at home. The program was started in 2018 and currently operates in six Winnipeg schools, with sites planned for rural regions of the province in the 2023-2024 school year. 

As the expected cost of operation is $450,000 for the school year, Harvest is hopeful donors will see the program’s value and donate to help children in their community. While Harvest does receive one-time grants from the government, it is community donations they rely on most. 

“We rely on the generosity of our community through volunteering and food and cash donations to sustain operations,” Mikos explained. 

Another program Harvest operates is called Harvest First Steps. In addition to regular hamper and basket donation programs, First Steps is explicitly intended to help mothers to help meet the needs of their infants. As is the rest of the operations at Harvest, this program is funded entirely by the generosity of its donors. 

According to the Harvest website, the support provided by Harvest “Includes providing baby formula, baby cereal, diapers, and other infant care essentials” to families across Manitoba. 

Recent years have been challenging for Harvest, as most Manitobans can also say for themselves. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the world in 2020, people in need still required help. Despite this, donations to Harvest have been reduced substantially. 

“At the start of the pandemic, Harvest Manitoba had to purchase food for the first time in history. We’re able to meet the needs of the community, but we’re still purchasing food in significant quantities to meet that demand.” 

When asked how Manitobans can help support Harvest Manitoba, Mikos was excited to say, “There are so many ways to support Harvest Manitoba… If you’re not in a position to contribute financially, we always need food donations and volunteers in our warehouse. And as the harvest season begins, we also urge local gardeners to donate their extra produce to Harvest Manitoba.” 

For those with a green thumb, there is a unique way you can help support Harvest. The Grow-a-Row program incites locals to redistribute their gardens by bringing in sections of their harvested vegetables. Root vegetables are encouraged as they have a longer shelf life than others. Among the most needed vegetables are carrots, onions, and potatoes. At the same time, cucumbers, tomatoes, and crab apples are also welcome to be donated. 

Anyone who is able to provide a monetary donation can do so here. On this page is an open text box which allows you to enter how much money you would like to donate, after which you will be shown directly in lbs how far your donation will be able to go in helping sustain the Harvest food bank. 

While many Manitobans need to use Harvest every month, the next few months will see a substantial uptick in clients using their services. With Thanksgiving hardly a month away and the holiday season approaching, it is essential to remember those who cannot afford lavish dinners for their families.  

“Harvest Manitoba always needs food, time, and funds to serve our community, especially with Thanksgiving and the holiday season on the horizon. Visit our website at HarvestManitoba.ca/Ways-to-give to learn how you can help feed hungry Manitobans as the busy season picks up.” 

Among other ways people can help Harvest is by volunteering their time. As the holiday season approaches, notably the busiest time of year for harvest, the need for helping hands in their buildings grows exponentially. With 70 full-time employees working for Harvest, there is plenty of room for volunteers to help with day-to-day operations. 

“The number of volunteers fluctuates, but our volunteers donated an incredible 65,469 hours to Harvest Manitoba this year.” 

This number of hours volunteers work is equivalent to having over 30 additional full-time employees. The impact of volunteers at this organization is not only appreciated but necessary.  

Among other ways Harvest helps those who require its services is its work training program. The program’s design is to provide a resource for individuals to acquire workplace knowledge, such as how to operate a forklift or training in how to work in a kitchen. The program is open to low-income individuals and only requires the completion of an online application to enroll. 

“We were excited to reopen our warehouse training program in the fall, incorporating kitchen and life skills training for our students this past year, enabling them to acquire valuable experience within a supportive environment. We look forward to expanding this program moving forward,” Mikos explained. “We’re also actively working towards developing a northern supply hub in Thompson in partnership with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO).” 

The program is free of charge and operates at 1085 Winnipeg Avenue. 

As is commonly seen among other community help programs, a tremendous amount of stigma is associated with those who use Harvest. Manitobans need to recognize the fallacy of many of these preconceived notions. 

“Many people don’t know that the face of food bank users is changing,” Mikos said. “1 in 4 of our clients now have jobs, which is 50 per cent more than last year. With a 150 per cent increase in demand for food banks since last year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to make ends meet due to inflation, low wages, and record-high food costs—to name a few.” 

As the cost of living increases for everyone, we must bear in mind some are already struggling financially. Anyone who already had a difficult time putting food on the table for their family has felt the rising cost of living an impossible burden without the help of Harvest and other community organizations. By donating money, food, or time, we can each do our part to help our neighbours. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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