A donation of 200 chickens to the Helping Hand Food Bank Tuesday was followed Thursday morning by a visit from farmers involved in the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s ‘CFO Cares – Farmers to Food Banks’ program.
“I’m so happy to see everyone in our humble food bank,” said Bob Smith, Chair of the Helping Hand Food Bank board. “Our food bank has been operating here for approximately 30 years now.”
“Each year the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) donate chicken to the food banks of Ontario – it’s a great gesture, it’s a great way to help our communities,” said Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who attended Thursday’s event in Tillsonburg.
“We want to show the industry is working to help out communities,” said Hardeman, who had suggested the Helping Hand Food Bank was a good place to mark the fifth year of CFO Cares – Farmers to Food Banks. “Chicken Farmers of Ontario not only grow our food, they are members of our community and they want to make sure they are doing their part.”
That desire to give back to their communities played a large part in Chicken Farmers of Ontario creating CFO Cares.
“We were at a meeting where someone asked, ‘why should we be involved?'” recalled Ralph DeWeerd, a member of the CFO Cares committee. “And I simply said, ‘Well, it’s the right thing to do.'”
“This is our way of giving back,” nodded Alfred Rumph, a CFO Cares committee member from Drayton, Wellington County.
“Every major organization is involved in philanthropic activity and this is our contribution,” said DeWeerd. “The industry has treated us well and we – the farmers and the CFO – are interested in giving back.”
South-West Oxford’s Joanne Hayes, who with husband Dave has a diverse farm in the Tillsonburg area with chickens, laying hens, maple syrup and asparagus, is a member of the Egg Farmers of Ontario and Chicken Farmers of Ontario, both supporters of food banks.
“It’s definitely very important – we want to help as many people as we can,” said Hayes. “We’re thankful for what we have, and if we have the opportunity to help others then we definitely want to do that.”
“We really like giving back,” said Gerda Pier, who raises chickens and cash crops in the Mount Elgin area. “We do that on a regular basis. I feel that it’s important to give back to the community. Like she (Hayes) said, when you’re fortunate enough to have it, then you should share that with others.”
The CFO donations can be designated to specific food banks, Pier noted.
“We wanted it to go local, but not all food banks can handle fresh food. We knew Tillsonburg did, which is 10-15 minutes from us. So we said yes, please send it here because it’s local. We grow it local, it stays local and it can help local families. It’s always nice to help who you can, whoever needs help, but it’s even nicer when you can give back to the community you live in. And that’s basically what this is.”
“I am thrilled,” said Joan Clarkson, Coordinator, Helping Hand Food Bank. “What a nice bunch of people, they really are. They care – they’ve driven all this way and they want to see what we have and what we do. They see that the food they donate is going to the people who need it.”
“It’s nice to see the contribution from the chicken producers,” said Tillsonburg Councillor Dave Beres, noting the Helping Hand Food Bank services an area that encompasses 90,000 people.
“Sadly, the needs are there – our doors are always open for more (contributions) – and we have a great volunteer network to make sure it gets in their hands. We’re very, very proud of the volunteer network we have – the churches, the service clubs, the people of Tillsonburg – they are very, very generous.”
The CFO Cares – Farmers to Food Banks program directs the donations of fresh chicken from Ontario chicken farmers to food banks across the province. Since its start, more than 3 million meals have been delivered, including 1.1 million meals in 2018.
“The farmers here today are really the stars,” said Ed Benjamin, Chair of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, nodding toward the dozen chicken farmers visiting the Helping Hand Food Bank Thursday morning representing approximately 1,300 family-run CFO farms in the province. “These events happen because our farmers give back to the communities they’re in and I think it’s just absolutely wonderful.
“I just want to thank our farmers for stepping up to the plate. We absolutely believe in the need. We also believe in our farmers being able to respond to that need. We think it’s a great way that we can give back to our local communities – and this is just one of those ways. This program is about us enabling our farmers to connect and give back… so the CFO Cares program is a really a vehicle that helps us in our collaboration with the Ontario Association of Food Banks.”
“What a tremendous difference the CFO is making in so many lives,” said Hardeman. “Thank you so much for supporting the Helping Hand Food Bank, and for the work that Ontario chicken farmers carry out all year round to make this remarkable contribution possible.
“It’s great to see the chicken farmers going the extra mile. The one shortage we’ve had over the years at food banks is to get enough protein – and I think that was caused by the inability to store it properly. I think everybody knows that the basics of all our diets has to include protein, and so this is a great way to make sure that people who have to avail themselves of the food bank, have that protein in their diet, too. Today, it’s here, it’s being stored, it’s being provided on a regular basis by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario – and I want to say thank you for that.
“It’s such a special contribution to the community in the cold months. With this kind weather, it’s the time you need the higher protein value, so it’s such a great thing to see the warmth and generosity of what’s happening here today at the Helping Hand Food Bank.”
“Protein, that’s very important to me,” said Clarkson. “We give out eggs every week and they all get meat. We’re very generous, because of our community, we’re very generous with our clients.
“With food banks these days, it’s not just handing out a box or bag of food, we make sure that everything they need to be eating is in that bag. They see the list and they pick from it, so they’re given a choice and they’re given good food – and a real mixture.”
Food banks are also educating clients, she said, with Cooking Outside the Box and other cooking classes. The Helping Hand Food Bank also started a successful cooking class for kids last fall.
Helping Hand Food Bank also receives donations from the Dairy Board, Beef Board, Pork Board, and Egg Board, Clarkson noted.
“They all help us,” said Clarkson.