November 30, 2023

Furniture Bank

Swing Your Furniture Bank

Meet the people using Harvest Manitoba’s new Winnipeg Avenue food bank

In her 44 years of full-time work and eight years of retirement, Erlinda De Guzman never thought she would need a food bank. 

Until now. 

She’s among the 40 or so people who use Harvest Manitoba’s new food bank in the community room at Harvest Manitoba’s Winnipeg Avenue headquarters every second Thursday. 

People have always been able to access emergency food at the organization’s headquarters, but when the pandemic started they had to book an appointment, which can be a barrier. The new food bank, which opened in April, offers a more consistent option for people in the neighbourhood. 

“We are so lucky and happy to come here once a month to pick whatever they have,” De Guzman told CBC News.

She is one of roughly 90,000 people who access food from Harvest Manitoba each month, the charity’s most recent report says.

About two months ago, inflation, a sick partner and growing heating bills led De Guzman to Harvest Manitoba for the first time. When she first walked into the Winnipeg Avenue food bank, she admits she felt a bit shy. 

But after seeing the friendly volunteers, free coffee and donuts, and the option to pick the food she needs off the shelf herself, she opened up. 

In 2022, Harvest Manitoba saw a 40 per cent increase in demand, the highest increase in the organization’s 38-year history.

“The need is increasing pretty much every month,” said Meaghan Erbus, the director of network advocacy and education at Harvest Manitoba.

Lifeline for new Canadians

About 40 people visit the Winnipeg Avenue Food Bank every second Thursday to pick up the food they need. They register ahead and go to the building at the same time each month.

Many are new Canadians.

Andres Castro moved to Winnipeg from Ecuador with his wife and three kids just under a year ago and has been using the food bank to make ends meet. 

Andres Castro works at a furniture factory, while his wife studies English and business administration. After moving here from Ecuador a year ago, they depend on Harvest to feed their three kids. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

He works nights at a furniture factory while his wife studies English and business administration at Red River College Polytechnic.

Just over 24 per cent of Harvest’s clients are employed.

“I don’t have the money to buy all the produce,” he said. “It’s very important for me and my family.” 

Castro said expensive international student tuition and rising food costs make it impossible to feed his family healthy food on just one income. He plans to stop by Harvest once a month until his wife graduates and begins earning an income as well. 

His kids are among the 15,000 Manitoba children who accessed food through Harvest this October. 

New demographic

When Milka Djukic moved to Manitoba from the former Yugoslavia 23 years ago, she depended a lot on Harvest to get on her feet, volunteering when she could to give back. Now she’s paying it forward to Ukrainians in Manitoba going through the same thing. 

Milka Djukic depended on Harvest a lot when she moved to Winnipeg from Ukraine 23 years ago. Now she picks up food for another Ukrainian couple who just moved here to escape the war with Russia. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Part of the growing demand comes from the thousands of Ukrainians who came to Manitoba after Russia invaded their country in February. Many now depend on Harvest to get by. 

Djukic stopped by the food bank to pick up food for a newly arrived Ukrainian couple now in the same place she was. 

“We came without anything,” she said.

“I had one kid at that time, and we got food and got toys for her and fruit for her, and it helped me a lot. It helps so many people.”