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July 18, 2022

United Way advocate will address hunger and food rescue on July 20 in Kimberley

Hunger and Food Rescue event poster

Every weekday morning at 7:30 am, Paul Wagenaar, Food Security Coordinator for the United Way of Grey Bruce, wends his way to the Zehrs Markets Supermarket in Owen Sound to pick up food donated by Zehrs — good food that would otherwise be discarded because it is blemished or is in damaged packaging or is unlikely to be sold because it has passed its “best before” date. Each morning he returns from Zehrs with between five hundred and a thousand pounds of food destined for distribution to people through food banks and meal organizations. On weekends, volunteers perform this food rescue work in Wagenaar’s stead.

Retrieving good food that would otherwise become garbage is just one of the many activities that Wagenaar and his partners carry out to ensure that all of us in Grey and Bruce have enough of the right foods to eat, regardless of our income. This collective work is the basis of Wagenaar’s upcoming interactive presentation, The Hidden Hunger Problem — a free event to learn about hidden hunger here, and how we can come together to make a difference.

The event will be held at the hundred-year-old Kimberley Community Hall, 235309 Grey Rd 13, Kimberley, starting at 7:00 pm on Wednesday July 20. Everyone is welcome, the building is wheelchair-accessible and no registration is required.

Wagenaar’s Hidden Hunger presentation is the third of four events in the ecologically-focused Community Connection Speaker Series sponsored by the Kimberley Community Association, the Grey Highlands Public Library, the Grey Highlands Climate Action Group, the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy and the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club.

Wagenaar is haunted, intrigued and motivated by two dissonant statistics. On one hand, one in five people in Bruce and Grey doesn’t get enough food to eat. But on the other hand, 58% of the food produced or brought into Grey and Bruce is wasted — it never gets to the dinner plates of people who need it. And another statistic demonstrates the toxic reach of food waste — globally, wasted food is the third largest source of climate-damaging greenhouse gases.

The dissonance can be resolved in part through food rescue operations like the one he mounts each weekday and that are created with increasing frequency across Grey and Bruce. It can be partly resolved by strengthening our private and public sector food distribution networks, partly by grow-food initiatives like community gardens, partly by ending poverty and reducing housing costs that consume income that should be spent on food, and partly by public education about the uses and abuses of our food supplies.

Wagenaar, the son of immigrants from the Netherlands, grew up in Hillsburgh, a village southwest of Orangeville. His home was on the edge of the village, next to productive farm fields, giving him an early love of both small-town and farm life. After graduating from the University of Guelph with a degree in Economics and Business Administration, he spent decades managing retail furniture stores — but corporate restructuring at the onset of the pandemic left him searching for a new career — preferably a career in which living wages and concern for employee wellbeing weren’t sacrificed for the sake of narrow bottom lines. He found fertile ground for his principles as a volunteer with the United Way of Grey Bruce, and he soon fell in love with the concept of food security, serving initially as the volunteer Food Security Advocate for the United Way, then on staff as its Food Security Coordinator — roles that appealed to his dislike of waste, his commitment to direct action and his belief in the power of statistics and partnerships to shape both policy and action.

To ensure that food decisions are grounded in evidence, Wagenaar has been one of the prime movers in the development of FOODGREYBRUCE.COM, a tool that takes data shared by community food organizations and presents it concisely for decision-makers, funders, media and the public. Even before becoming committed to food security issues he produced a weekly blog, Tools Everyone Can Use, that offers bite-sized posts on everything from organizational culture to interview tips. Once food security became his passion he began producing another weekly blog, FoodThoughts.ca

Wagenaar won’t talk about his own contributions to food security and food rescue unless pressed to do so. He prefers to shift the focus to more than 50 food security organizations across Bruce and Grey, many of them struggling with limited budgets and shoestring staffing, and facing the daily challenges of delivering services during and immediately after a pandemic and when transportation costs are skyrocketing. “The heroes out there,” says Wagenaar, “are the families coping as well as they can with food issues, and the many volunteers in our food agencies who help them cope.”

Wagenaar sees himself as one member of the myth-busting team in Grey and Bruce community, helping us to understand that hunger is not rare in our communities and that much of the food we produce or import ends up wasted — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Says Wagenaar, “Informing governments, media and our communities, educating people that poverty and the lack of affordable and safe housing is the root cause, and working and collaborating with all of the volunteer agencies is a big part of what I do each day.”

To learn more about our hidden hunger crisis, to find out how to help and to share your own thoughts on how to achieve food rescue and food security, join Paul Wagrnaar for his presentation and forum on The Hidden Hunger at the Kimberley Community Hall on July 20 at 7:00 pm. The event will be, literally, food for thought.

 


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