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The only vegetarian food bank in town and they need your help

By Shiamala Paramasivam for the Toronto Fresh Foods Examiner

Ontario Vegetarian Food Bank (OVFB) is a 100% volunteer run non-profit organization that serves two locations in Toronto. The OVFB was established on Mother’s Day 2008. “What a better day to start a food bank, mother’s are all about food,” states Malan Joseph, the Executive Director of OVFB.

Malan Joseph’s vision began when he was running a community program at a local temple that his wife visits. A Roman Catholic by religious association, Malan wanted to channel the food donations the temple receives to those in need. It is while doing this that he realised that there are so many more who need the food. Along, with others who shared his passion, Malan was able to start and run OVFB successfully. Today, the vegetarian food bank serves over 1000 clients in the community.

It is important to note that one does not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the services offered at OVFB. However, they only accept and offer vegetarian items to their clients. "For many low-income vegetarians, it is emotionally disturbing if they go to a regular food bank and is given meat or sausage", says Malan Joseph. Jessica Smith, a vegetarian who used a food bank in the past was forced to eat tuna as she had no choice. Her husband was a boxer and she was hypoglycemic so she saw it as a way of survival. “We ate the fish in small bites and swallowed quickly in order not to choke. We looked at it this way. It was an emergency. It was either we eat it or we're going to get sick." states Jessica Smith who later joined the OVFB as the Volunteer Coordinator.

OVFB’s clients are mainly from the low-income population, as well as new immigrants. OVFB recognizes the need to help their clients obtain sustainable employment and as such language trainings, resume writing assistance and cultural sensitivity trainings are conducted. “It’s important for the new-comers to learn Canadian social norms and culture to help them integrate into the society” adds Jessica Smith. As part of their language training, participants are taken on outings to the mall, food court. “This creates a casual, relaxed learning environment where basics of everyday conversation is taught”, states Malan Joseph. OVFB offers English, Spanish and French language classes 3 evenings a week.

As part of their job preparation program, the OVFB offers food safety trainings such as the Certified Food Handlers, a crucial training for food service workers, day care providers, and personal support workers. This certification is valid throughout Ontario and meets the Ministry of Health’s requirements. The OVFB also offers financial assistance to those who qualify.

To increase communication and reduce social barriers among new-comer families, the OVFB also offers workshops on the following topics: Domestic violence, safe sex, and on raising sexually healthy children. These are progressive ideas to most immigrant families who were most likely raised in a culture where these topics are taboo. By opening up channels of communication and conducting these workshops, the OVFB has begun to break barriers, one step at a time.

The OVFB is looking for your help. The highest percentage of their donation comes from individual giving and they are finding it hard to secure donations. A donation in the following form is greatly appreciated: non-perishable vegetarian foods, fresh vegetables/fruits, books, toys, clothing, and of course monetary donation. The OVFB has recently started its clothing donation program where it’s clients can benefit from the lovingly used clothing that is donated by people such as yourself. This program was the brain child of Nohelia, a volunteer and former client of the food bank. “OVFB helped me when I was in need, I was in a shelter but now I am a building superintendent. The volunteers of OVFB helped me improve my English, gave me confidence and now I want to help others” further adds Nohelia.

The vegetarian food bank receives no government funding and operating costs are financed by Malan Joseph, a realtor by profession. Other services currently offered at the OVFB are translation service, tax clinics, chaplain services for hospital or prison visits, and general enquiries/help with government assistance programs. If you are looking to volunteer, do contact Jessica Smith at 416-744-HELP (4357) or visit the food bank at www.vegfoodbank.ca

You do not need to spend gruelling hours at the OVFB; a modest amount is absolutely acceptable as I found out while waiting to meet the board members at OVFB. A gentleman approached me and asked if I could translate a letter for him and it took me only a couple of minutes to help him out. His sincere appreciation put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM EXAMINER.COM. To view the original article, please click here.

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