The queue begins on Kings Road and ends some way down Dowler Place in the Quadra-Hillside neighbourhood of Victoria.
It consists out of 80-plus people, who are waiting to pick up fruits and vegetables free of charge courtesy of Living Edge. A Church of Our Lord program, it has distributed fresh produce and vegetables in the Quadra Village neighbourhood since 2011.
The line ends by a set of stairs that lead into a small courtyard. Volunteers wearing transparent plastic gloves sort vegetables, while other arrange perishable items, including loafs of bread stuffed into large plastic bags. Some of the volunteers wear regular street clothes, other looks like roadies, wearing T-shirts with the Living Edge logo, as they heave boxes holding every kind of produce into place. The food itself comes from local grocery stores, such as Thrifty’s, the Foodshare Network, the Mustard Seed Street Church, Salvation Army and other agencies.
Living Edge founder, Pastor Neil Van Heerden, addresses the volunteers. He is wearing a grey baseball cap and the edge of a tattoo sneaks past the left sleeve of his white T-shirt. He pulls out his cellphone and quotes a passage of 1 Timothy 4, a letter from Paul the Apostle.
Van Heerden tells the volunteers that the passage reminds them of their choice to foresake more lucrative pursuits for helping other people. “Even if you are feeling low, even if you have are feeling down, we have chosen to do something that is really helping other people,” he said. “For me, I know it adds value to my life.”
After the group prays for the recovery of a volunteer’s relative, the first people in line descend down the stairs to pick up items from various stations arranged in the shape of an upside-down U. Following the last station, they walk up a ramp that leads back up to Dowler Place.
Some move on quickly. “No English,” says an older man wearing a white robe. “Syrian.” Others lingers. Laura (not her real name) is sitting with two female friends along a nearby wall. A fourth, Susy (not her real name), stands nearby. “Today is a light day,” says Laura. Susy agrees. “It used to be 50 to 60 people,” she says. “Now, it is 130, 140 some days.”
Both have limited budgets and depend on Living Edge to make ends meet. Laura, for example, comes almost every week during the summer and about twice a month during the winter. She loves the fresh produce and vegetable. Living Edge, also does not limit visits, unlike other foodbanks, she says. Susy is also a regular and whatever she cannot use herself, she shares with her brother, her sister and her three children, and friends, who cannot make it out themselves to the Quadra Village Community Centre. Living Edge also distributes food Tuesday mornings to residents of North Park Manor.
The Quadra Village neighbourhood ranks among the poorer neighbourhoods of the Greater Victoria region. But its residents are not the only ones struggling. As the cost of living driven by higher housing costs has risen across the region, food insecurity has spread. So Living Edge has expanded its efforts to other neighbourhood by partnering with other churches.
Earlier this year, Living Edge partnered with Emmanuel Baptist Church to serve residents in the University of Victoria area. A more recent partnership with Gateway Baptist Church has also brought the program to Saanich’s Broadmead area. Later this year, Living Edge will be present in Langford. “It’s really exciting, because they are so short of resources there,” he says. Food insecurity, in other words, is not just a problem of core Victoria or any specific neighbourhood.
Van Heerden says the program helps everybody, regardless of their respective religious background or circumstances.
While many of the people relying on Living Edge receive disability or social assistance, most of them are working, be it full-time, or part-time, says Kelcy Snyckers, a spokesperson for the program.”Trying to make ends meet is almost impossible, because of the cost of living,” she says.
Van Heerden says the program also helps to reclaim food. “That is often something that we often don’t think of,” he says.
The program has also helped to foster a sense of community and solidarity, something obvious as people were outside the Quadra Village Community Centre. Many greeted each other as friends. “People come early just to socialize,” says Laura. Others around her nod their heads in agreement. Some of the crowds at other food banks are rougher, she says.
But Susy also knows that food-banks invite a certain stigma, a stigma, she rejects. “We’re not disgusting drug users,” she says. “Most of us just happen to be poor.”