We know that the South Okanagan has a reputation as a sunny summer destination for locals and international visitors alike, but as a charity that has been operating in this area for over 7 years, we also know that the community is complex and multifaceted. As vibrant and beautiful as the region is, there are also many local people that face serious challenges in meeting their basic needs.
Since we are committed to improving the wellbeing of our community members by increasing access to fresh and healthy food, as well as fun, inclusive, outdoor volunteer activities, we often look to our 80+ partner organizations for guidance about the latest news on the top issues facing local folks.
As an example of this, the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan publishes a “Vital Signs Report” every three years that focuses on the major region-wide issues that affect the wellbeing of local communities.
The most recent Vital Signs Report, published in 2018, had the following to say about the topic of “Living Standards” in the South Okanagan:
“Being able to feed your family, opportunities to advance your financial well-being and supporting those living in poverty were considered when rating the region’s living standards as a B-. This is juxtaposed against high poverty rates, many comments about the high cost of living and concerns about supports for marginalized people.”
The report states that across 7+ community areas in the South Okanagan Region, there is an approximately 20% overall low-income rate, which mirrors a 20% child poverty rate and a 20% seniors poverty rate. This is alarming, especially since we know that fresh fruits and vegetables are often too expensive to afford for people living on lower incomes. At the same time, the many nutrients found in these foods are vital for the proper health and development of growing children, and can help seniors maintain vitality in their golden years.
It is community reports like these that let us know that we are on the right track when designing programs such as our fruit and vegetable rescue program or collaborative harvest program. We put in a lot of effort to rescue as much produce as possible each season and make sure that it finds its way to our trusted community partners, which serve those experiencing the most vulnerabilities. Our partners include the Boys and Girls Clubs, several seniors centres across Penticton and Summerland, and many schools and daycares with breakfast and lunch programs.
Apart from making sure that perfectly good fruits and vegetables do not go to waste, we also work hard on creating a welcoming and supportive community around local food. If you ever come to one of our harvests, you would probably find folks from all walks of life, and representing a diverse age range – from toddlers to great grandparents! Volunteering with us is a stigma-free way for anyone to access fresh produce directly from the tree or plant. We also make sure that there is a job for everyone to do; for example, folks who cannot climb ladders, can help sort fruit for delivery or can help organize and weigh the fruit bins.
We are aware that we are only one small organization, and that addressing complex issues like living standards, hunger, or poverty, is a long road that requires deep and systemic changes. However, looking back at our 7 seasons of operation in the South Okanagan and knowing that we have contributed hundreds of thousands of fresh produce back to the community lets us know that we are headed in the right direction. We are grateful for the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan and their donors for supporting our produce rescue program in the South Okanagan this 2020 season.