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Pulse Donations Would Help Edmonton’s Food Bank Better Address Needs of Clients New to Canada (PCN Fall 2015) OCT 1 2015 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Pulses are included in every hamper that the Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA) food bank distributes to needy families in Edmonton. However, pulse donations are in very short supply.

The number of immigrant and refugee families seeking help from IFSSA has increased annually by 40 per cent in each of the last five years. The organization expects to provide 7,000 hampers over the course of this year, with 600 families being served every month. Last year, IFSSA provided 1,800 hampers that fed 300 families a month, including 2,000 children.

Each IFSSA hamper includes an average of 10 kg of pulses, most of which are dried. The most popular choices are chickpeas and lentils.

“Our challenge is how to make limited donations go further,” said Omar Yaqub, President of the Islamic Family Social Services Association (IFSSA), which operates its own food bank. “We approached Edmonton’s Food Bank to work together. Right now we purchase pulses from grocery stores. One of the things that we’re hoping to do is to kindle an interest in a farmer (or processor) to donate. A pulse donation equates to a meal for a family.”

Marjorie Bencz, Executive Director of Edmonton’s Food Bank, said that her organization distributes food to 210 agencies that deliver hamper programs that feed more than 15,000 people each month, so the partnership with IFSSA makes sense.

“The goal is not only to meet people’s food needs, but to put more resources into the underlying issues that cause people to come to the food bank,” she said. “We don’t want to see growing numbers of people dependent on food banks. Hopefully, they’ll be recipients of these pulse donations and future purchasers of pulses by encouraging them to keep their pattern of cooking.”

Yaqub explained that a partnership with Edmonton’s Food Bank will allow more of IFSSA’s budget to address the root causes that make a food bank necessary. These areas include unemployment, disabilities, housing insecurity, language barriers, and more.

IFSSA is a registered charity started in 1992 and dedicated to providing essential needs and social services to marginalized and lowincome communities in Edmonton, within an Islamic context. IFSSA is an active member of the Edmonton social services community and regularly works with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, Catholic Social Services, and others. Its youth program, The Green Room, was named one of the 40 Most Innovative Muslim Startups in 2014.

Bencz said that Edmonton’s Food Bank receives some dry and canned pulses but doesn’t include them in the general food hampers because many clients wouldn’t know how to prepare them. Her organization is increasingly working with collective kitchens to teach clients how to cook with pulses. One such program is the 10-week Basic Shelf Program, through which a small group of people is taught how to cook and shop for food on a limited budget.

“Pulses are in the scheme of things inexpensive as a food group for people to maximize their dollar,” Bencz said. “If they’re grown here in Alberta, then we’re strengthening our economy so it all makes sense.”

In addition to clients of IFSSA regularly enjoying many pulses in their diets, Yaqub noted that their food hampers would be different from those generally offered by Edmonton’s Food Bank because Muslims do not eat pork or gelatin, and require that their meat be slaughtered in a certain way. However, IFSSA offers its food bank services to all people in need, regardless of religious affiliation.

IFSSA serves a very diverse set of clients including fourth generation Canadians, Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Indians and Moroccans. IFSSA’s staff members are able to help clients navigate through language and cultural barriers when seeking employment.

Yaqub said that Muslims are religiously obligated to give to the poor in their communities, which helps support IFSSA’s activities. IFSSA also partners with the City of Edmonton and Government of Alberta on many of its programs.

IFSSA depends on many volunteers to prepare the food hampers, including bagging dry pulses from large sacks on pallets into smaller bags for distribution. Inshirah Mohamed is originally from Sudan and volunteers with her three children to help prepare the food hampers.

“When I was young, I was with my mother who would volunteer,” she said. “I want my kids to learn to give more than take as well.”

Hikma Abbas has been volunteering at the IFSSA food bank for the past two years, in appreciation for the assistance she received when she first arrived from Morocco. “I like to help people,” she said. “When I came here as a newcomer, IFSSA helped me a lot. This is my job to give back.”

When Pulse Crop News visited the IFSSA food bank in July, the volunteers were packing larger hampers with the addition of dates for Ramadan celebrations.

The needs of IFSSA’s food bank clients are evaluated each year, Yaqub explained. If a family is seen to remain dependent on the food bank for its essential needs year after year, then a social worker will get involved to help work on any underlying issues.

“Part of the increase in food bank use is the population increase and part of it is awareness,” he said. “It’s very common to see someone who has a family of four taking home $1,500 and their rent is $1,400. Housing is the first priority. A pulse donation to the food bank is going to make a substantial difference and impact to people who really need it.”

More information about IFSSA is available at To learn more about Edmonton’s Food Bank, visit