Canadian Foodgrains Bank
by Frank Dabbs
The New Testament has many stories about the meals that Jesus shared; breaking bread with two men he met on the Emmaus road and giving bread and fish to a crowd of 5,000 by the sea.
He addressed the issue of hunger when some Pharisees told him that his disciples, who had picked some grain and ate it on the Sabbath, were breaking religious law. The Pharisees were members of a party that loved to argue the fine points of the law. They frequently confronted Jesus, hoping to discredit him as a non-observant Jew.
Jesus answered them that his followers were simply hungry, as was David when he went into the temple and ate the unleavened matzah, the showbread, offered by the priests to God alone.
This incident reveals one of the backstories of the New Testament, the care and feeding of the itinerant disciples. Jesus understood first-hand food insecurity. He said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
In the spring of 1961, moved by an appeal from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United Nations formed the World Food Program to address the problem of hunger in a world of 3.2 billion people, one of the first programs by developed nations to aid the third world.
In September of that year, the WFP had its first crisis, an earthquake in northern Iran that killed 12,000 people. It responded by airlifting 1,500 tonnes of wheat, 270 tonnes of sugar and 27 tonnes of tea to the hungry survivors.
The WFB is still the gold standard of food aid programs in a world of now 7.7 billion people. Its goal is zero hunger.
In 1975, responding to drought and famine in Bangladesh, witnessed first-hand by the Mennonite’s county representative, Winnipeg businessman Art DeFehr, prairie Mennonites established a food bank. They followed the Genesis example of Joseph’s agriculture management in Egypt. He stored surplus grain grown in good crop years to distribute in years of poor crops.
The aid program developed a partnership with the Canadian Wheat Board (now disbanded) and a system of matching grants from the Canadian International Development Agency (now Global Affairs Canada).
The Foodgrains partnership has grown into a pillar of Canada’s federal food aid. Federal funding leverages Foodgrains Bank aid on a four-to-one basis. Under the terms of a funding agreement, for every dollar that the Foodgrains Bank puts into food aid, Canada contributes four dollars up to $25 million.
A second agreement with the government provides $5 million each year for soil conservation and rehabilitation programs that assist farmers in Africa to restore the fertility of their land.
For instance, Canadian prairie techniques to preserve soil moisture have been applied by Foodgrains Bank technicians in African drought-prone areas to improve crop yields.
In fiscal 2018 – 2019, the Foodgrains Bank helped 800,000 people in 36 nations with donations of $40 million.
In 1983, the Mennonite Food Bank became the first building block of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The CFB now counts 15 church denominations and church-linked agencies as members.
Its objectives are to operate international programs to meet immediate food needs, reduce malnutrition and nurture food security. The bank lobbies government for policies that contribute to ending global hunger, and it deepens Canadian engagement in those efforts.
Jim Cornelius has been the executive director of the Foodgrains Bank since 1997. He is the son of Canadian Pentecostal Assemblies missionaries in Kenya and has made his career in international aid.
“I grew up with what it means to have a personal sense of vocation and calling. I learned that life is a gift from God and what are you going to do with it?” Cornelius chose a career in international aid as a response to Jesus’ command to feed the hungry.
Terence Barg is a Breton, Alberta realtor and is the northern Alberta coordinator of the Canadian Foodgrains Banks, a part-time job. He’s been involved with Foodgrains for 10 years.
Barg attends Faith Covenant Church in the village of Breton, west of Edmonton. Faith Covenant is a church of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada. It contributes money to the Foodgrains Bank and its principal local mission is the Breton area food bank, run out of the church basement.
“I believe that we have a responsibility to our world. That we are called to reach out to physical and spiritual needs,” says Barg. “There are about 32 growing producer groups in Alberta. The number of groups varies up and down from year to year.” He adds, “Some groups lose their access to land, volunteers retire, grain prices go up and down.
The Alberta groups raised $2.84 million, $1.93 from sales in 2018. The balance came from other community projects, choir concerts, personal donations, and church offerings.
As part of his job, Barg also does public engagement, giving talks in schools, churches and to community groups to explain Foodgrains Bank, and to encourage enlightened public policy.
In Abbotsford, BC, a group of volunteers chaired by Rob Brandsma, a home renovation contractor, has done a Make a Difference auction of livestock and equipment for three years to help end world hunger by giving the proceeds to the Foodgrains Bank.
This spring at Abby Stockyards (formerly McClary Stockyards), the auction raised $269,000. In total over three years, the event has garnered $670,000.
“We are a bank. Rather than shipping Canadian grain, we use the money raised in Canada to buy the right foods in the right places close to where it is needed,” says Cornelius. “We can respond quickly as needs arise.The 15 groups that make up the Foodgrains Bank have theological differences, but we don’t spend a lot of time talking about them. We work together to be a common witness.”