More than just a food bank

Carol Baldwin/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Wakaw Recorder Good Neighbours Food Centre's street frontage.

Carol Baldwin
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Wakaw Recorder

On May 24th, Rosthern’s Good Neighbours Food Centre started a new chapter as a food bank. The space has been converted into a free “store” where instead of receiving a pre-made food hamper, people seeking food assistance can select the items they want or that their family prefers.

This approach empowers individuals to make choices that align with their culture and personal preferences and aligns with Good Neighbours’ core belief of providing a “hand up” rather than a “handout”.

The “store” method of food aid is considered the best practice in food banks, and the Good Neighbour Food Centre is the second food bank in Saskatchewan to adopt this model. The center resembles a regular grocery store with coolers for perishables and shelves for packaged and canned goods, but all the food is free. Depending on family size, people can choose a specified number of items from a specific area.

After finishing their shopping, they take the tag from their cart and bring their vehicle to the side door, where volunteers will assist with loading it. The store model provides users greater dignity and grace and reduces potential food waste, as families only take items they will use. 

At Good Neighbours Food Centre, the food bank represents a symbol of hope, where community members come together to support each other. The centre is meant to be used by the community in various ways. The staff and Board of Directors strive to understand the people who use the facility and implement the Calls to Action set out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They believe that education is one of the tools that will help the country move forward in Truth and Reconciliation, and their goal is to provide the information necessary for all members of society to become fully aware of the history of Canada and Turtle Island regarding its Indigenous peoples.

Good Neighbours Food Centre is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring food security within a 50-kilometre radius of Rosthern. Building on a strong history of volunteerism, GNFC collaborates with community members, organizations, gardeners, farmers, and businesses to tackle local food insecurity issues. In 2023, GNFC received 132,793 pounds of food donations, with 80 percent being fresh and 20 percent non-perishable. Additionally, GNFC serves as a ‘rescue centre’ for wild meat and fish obtained from the Ministry of Environment. 

Betty Rudachyk, GNFC’s Executive Director, often expresses her gratitude for the support received from others but acknowledges that more partners would be appreciated. The intake area for GNFC covers 7,850 square kilometres including the communities of Hague, Waldheim, Laird, Duck Lake, Beady’s and Okemasis First Nation, St. Louis, Hoey, Bellevue, One Arrow First Nation, Domremy, Wakaw, Cudworth, and Alvena. GNFC is also seeing an increase in families registering from the surrounding areas. Betty Rudachyk aims to collaborate with individuals or organizations in each community served by GNFC to raise awareness, garner support, and increase involvement. Although GNFC is based in Rosthern, its community outreach extends beyond the town limits. Due to the growing number of families registering for food aid, GNFC is actively participating in additional fundraising efforts. 

Food insecurity is a real issue in rural communities, stated Rudachyk, and providing food for families in need requires the efforts of many people. Rudachyk describes GNFC’s donors as ‘amazing’, but there is always something that is needed but not donated or perhaps not donated in adequate numbers to match the need and, in those instances, cash donations and money from fundraising are used to ‘fill the gaps’ on the shelves. Interested donors can also use Sarcan’s “Drop and Go” program to donate by entering the code “GNFC.”

On May 30th, Shred-it from Saskatoon brought its ‘shredding’ truck to Rosthern to safely dispose of people’s confidential documents and paperwork and then donated their time to support GNFC. More summer fundraisers include artisan markets and a ‘corn-fest’ during Rosthern’s Harvest Fest on September 21st. 

Good Neighbours Food Centre was established based on the philosophy of Wilmer Froese, who stated, “It has always been my belief that a food bank serves a greater purpose than just providing food. Food banks can convey something deeper than just a meal.” Betty Rudachyk describes it as a gathering place that challenges the stigma surrounding food insecurity. An iron table and chairs outside the front door, provide a place for passersby to stop and rest. Additionally, the street front includes a free library and an outdoor pantry, which the community has been utilizing. Last year, a street-front garden was initiated and will be expanded this year to include self-irrigating containers of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Gardening, Rudachyk explained, has been an important component of GNFC since its inception in 2011, and the street-front garden aims to enhance the beauty of the street and provide fresh produce for anyone in need.