My name is Debbie Wiseman and I am one of the co-founders of the non-profit, Sharing The Harvest NL. We successfully lobbied the government to make changes to the system to allow hunters to donate moose and caribou meat to food banks in the province.
I advocate for people who are living with a lower income, no matter why they are in that position. One of the main things that people living in poverty face is food insecurity. That’s a buzz word, a phrase that’s been in the media for the past year or so, but let’s quickly look at that phrase and why we should be concerned.
The latest statistics tell us that 13.4% of households in Newfoundland and Labrador are food insecure. That’s 26,000 households in our province. That’s over 10,000 of our children. These numbers are pre-Covid. From my work directly in the community, I know that number is actually higher. I work directly with these families. I speak to them, I know their struggles. I know the single moms who eat one meal a day to make sure their children have enough to eat. I know the senior who only takes his medication every second day because he can’t afford to take them every day. I speak to the people who run the food-line. They are still getting 10-15 calls every day from people who do not have enough to eat and are reaching out. And there’s countless others who do not reach out, for fear of being judged.
At a meeting of the Social Justice Co-op last year, we were looking at food banks. What kind of foods do people get? So at this point I will tell you I have personal experience with food banks. The reason I am so very passionate about these issues is that I grew up raised by a single mom. My dad passed away when I was 7. My mom had no help. Despite my mom’s best efforts, she was raising 3 girls alone and we lived in poverty. She instilled in me a strong work ethic and compassion for other people. She also always told me there was no shame in reaching out for help. So when I was a teenager, 30 years ago, she took me along on a trip to the food bank. A few years ago, I had to use food banks again myself. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I got the same kinds of foods that I got 30 years before. Fraser Farms meatballs, for example. And let me preface this by saying, this is not a slam on food banks. I understand why we get what we get. The food is processed, it’s canned. Rarely do people get fresh vegetables, fruit is even rarer. You may get one package of meat, but not every month. And you certainly did not get anything that is locally produced. This led some of us to wonder how we could get more fresh, healthy and locally sourced foods into food banks.
And this is where Barry Fordham came in. I remember hearing him talk about getting moose meat into food banks on CBC. I reached out to him, and I found out this was still illegal for hunters to donate to food banks. Barry and I teamed up. The hunter and the vegetarian activist. We worked very hard and we eventually got a meeting with Minister Loveless, who was the minister in charge of Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture at the time. We were so pleased when we actually got to speak to the Minster and his staff. The Minister was completely open to implementing a program that allowed hunters to donate to food banks. Minister Loveless and his staff actually went above and beyond what we asked for. We had proposed a pilot program, where hunters had to go through our non-profit, in order to update. They said that any hunter could donate to any food bank in the whole province! All that was required was for the food bank to register with the Department and fill out a form at the end of hunting season.
We started very late in the season in 2020. Many hunters already had their moose. But not everyone did. We were so fortunate to receive literally hundreds of pounds of donations. And we were so honoured to distribute those to local food banks. We, along with Food First NL, were able to direct hunters and food banks through the process and connect hunters with their local food banks to facilitate donations last season. Overall, over 400 packages of moose meat was donated to families.
In the time since then, I’ve talked to some of those food bank operators. The clients who said they would like to get moose in their food hampers were over the moon.
Sometimes people recognize me in public. I’ve actually had people ask if I am “the moose lady” and I don’t know how I feel about that particular nickname, but they said they were able to have moose for the first time in years. We made sure that we included First Light in our program, so that Indigenous folks could enjoy some “country food.” I only learned that phrase last year. I’m a townie. I heard from a single mom that she got moose in her hamper from the Single Parents Association, and they had moose burgers for the first time in their lives. I cannot tell you how much it means to people.
We recently met with the new Minister of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture, Derek Bragg, and his staff. We asked that they make this change that allows hunters to donate moose and caribou to food banks official and permanent. The current legislation still makes it illegal for a hunter to donate to food banks. We asked that they make an amendment, and we were told that they would be doing that in either the fall 2021 or spring 2022 sitting of the House of Assembly! Keep your eyes and ears out for that, and for what we have planned next.