We are always interested in hearing more about the individuals in food banking across Canada! This month, our spotlight is on June Muir of the Unemployed Help Centre in Windsor, Ontario.
What is your role in food banking?
I am the President of the Windsor-Essex Food Bank Association and our food bank at the Unemployed Help Centre (which is the hub for the 15 food banks throughout Windsor and Essex County). My role is to work with the group so together, we can collectively enhance our ability to reach thousands of individuals and families in Windsor and Essex County who need healthy, nutritious food. My goal is to promote what we do to secure donations to ensure food security in the community.
Describe a typical day in one word.
What was your inspiration to get involved in food banking?
I was hired at the UHC where one of my job duties was to supervise the food bank. I welcomed the opportunity because I could relate, growing up in a low-income area. I wanted to ensure these families had access to enough nutritious food. I also wanted to ensure that they would be referred to our other programs and services if desired.
What is your greatest achievement in your current role?
The development of the Plentiful Harvest Food Rescue Program. In our region, we have the largest and most intensive greenhouse growing area in North America with 3,000 acres of land, representing 150 greenhouse companies. They produce cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes that we can rescue to put on the plates of hungry children and adults. These would otherwise go to waste.
To resolve this problem, I developed the Plentiful Harvest Food Rescue Program in 2012. The team and I implemented the following 3 strategies, which are components that make up the program:
- A 26 ft. refrigerated truck was donated to pick up fresh produce from farmers and shippers, five days a week.
- We raised the funding to build a state-of-the-art Community Kitchen to wash the produce, proportionally repackage and preserve foods, as well as create meals from donated food for distribution. The community kitchen was deemed an offsite campus for the Greater Essex County District School Board where students can attend a culinary class, earning credits towards their grade 12 diploma. They are the hands that prepare the soups, sauces, etc. It is a win-win situation.
- We built a food storage “hub” to store produce, which increased our capacity.
This program is truly unique in that no one else in Ontario currently offers this innovative program to provide food security. This also led the Ontario Association of Food Banks to take the lead and collaborate with UHC and Food Banks Canada to develop a Farm to Food program. We were awarded a $750,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which will be used over a three-year period.
The creation of the Farm to Food program is in direct response to the issues of food waste and food insecurity. Millions of pounds of produce will be diverted and saved from being tilled under the soil, sent to landfill, or being used as livestock feed. The produce will instead be used to feed hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who regularly do not have enough to eat.
This grant will allow us to do even more in the areas of food rescue and transformation. We will be picking up even more fresh produce from farmers in Essex County than what we currently rescue, bringing it back to Community Kitchen and transforming it into healthy soups to nutritiously feed those in need.
The program, which aims to prepare and package approximately 2 million servings of soup annually, will feed 30,000 people locally with additional servings being sent throughout the province to feed around 500,000 unique individuals in total.
What is the greatest challenge in your current role?
A big challenge is keeping donors and securing new ones. There are many agencies that need reliable donors and we are all in the same arena fighting for the same funding. I am seeing a lot of donor fatigue.
If you could have one wish granted that would address hunger in Canada, what would it be?
That everyone in Canada would have healthy, nutritious food to eat.
What talent would you most like to have?
I wish I had the talent to cook like our Red Seal Chefs, so I could cook a meal in our community kitchen for our clients.
If you could tell your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Make sure you collaborate because you can do more with others. Working in silos takes longer to achieve your goals and collaborating will get you there faster.
Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.
My heroes are the clients we serve because I see how they struggle but always get through their day. When they do reach their goal and they share how they are feeling, it makes it all worthwhile. Especially for the staff who work with clients to assist them.
What is your idea of happiness?
When you earn enough money (a living wage) to be able to pay your bills with no worries and have enough to take your family to a show, etc.
What is your motto?
Treat people how you want to be treated.
What’s something quirky about you that others may not expect or know?
Having to communicate in a car for any length of time requires me to be blind folded. It stresses me out to my max.
What’s your theme song?
“Roar” by Katy Perry
Do you know a food bank or food banker that could be featured on our next Spotlight? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.