How peer researchers are bringing lived experience to Food Banks Canada’s first accessibility and equity guide

As the need for food banks grows right across the country, and the diversity of the clients we support increases, the work of building welcoming and accessible spaces is more critical than ever.

“We know that food insecurity and poverty don’t affect all equally,” says Kirstin Beardsley, CEO, Food Banks Canada. “As we address these issues at the personal, community, and systemic level, part of this work must involve looking at our own organizations and affirming our commitment to inclusion in all aspects of the work that we do.”

Inspired by an initial guide developed by Food Banks BC, Beardsley said Food Banks Canada used a Participatory Action Research approach to adapt and expand an accessibility and equity guide for the network of 10 Provincial Associations and 4,750 hunger relief organizations we serve from coast to coast to coast, in every province and territory.

Titled Without Barriers, Stigma, or Fear: A Practical Guide to Accessibility and Equity for Food Banks, the new guide is a practical document that aims to help the network adopt more equitable and accessible practices, with attention to the fear and discrimination people often experience when accessing services like food banks.

Accessibility and equity practices were part of developing the guide itself by centering the voices of those most impacted. Peer researchers with lived experience of food insecurity were core members of the team, providing critical content and feedback.

Dan Hillyer was one of the peer research partners who supported this work. Here he shares his passion for the work of equity, diversity, and inclusion as a member of the team that developed the guide.

“I have learned from personal experience just how vital it is to feel welcomed and safe at a time of crisis. This is my story.

I am married and have four daughters. At first, we believed it was just a short-term rough patch and our normal strategies would get us through. But days turned into weeks and the cupboards were bare. I wasn’t able to provide for my family.

The shame and embarrassment of going to the food bank was more than I could take. It was a much harder and bigger experience than being hungry. I felt like a failure as a father and community member. I felt like I was part of the problem; that I had become a burden on society.

It was really frightening when we did not have the ability to get even the essentials. It consumed all my thoughts. I was always thinking about where the next meal would come from. It really felt like struggling just to keep your head above water. Eventually I had to ask, how bad do things have to get before I ask for help? My number one priority was to shield my sweet daughters from the stress of knowing that we were out of food.

The hopelessness and anxiety I experienced devastated my mental health and I began to question whether life was still worth living. I had finally reached rock bottom. In desperation, I contacted my local community food support. It took all the courage I could muster just to show up. I sobbed for an hour before I could get out of my vehicle and approach the intake worker.

I repeated out loud to myself ‘please be kind, please be kind, please be kind.’ The worker never knew this but she was the first person on my healing journey. She set the tone for this path for me. The first words I heard were ‘I am so glad you are here.’

This set a life altering tone for me.

I was not a burden.

I was not a problem.

I was welcomed and I was safe.”

Each of us is only one crisis away from experiencing food insecurity.

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Food Banks Canada would like to acknowledge and thank the Walmart Foundation for funding this important research and the development of our Practical Guide to Accessibility and Equity for Food Banks.