Melanie Olfert first became interested in international development after several of her friends returned from a trip to Guatemala and began partnering with Food for the Hungry Canada (FH), based in Abbotsford.
She heard stories of how communities were being transformed, and she saw changes in her friends’ lives, as well.
Seeing and hearing about these positive changes made Olfert want to be part of this work.
After pursuing a masters in leadership at Trinity Western University (TWU), she eventually went to work for FH as the director of public engagement, inspiring Canadians to make a difference in the fight against global poverty.
Olfert observed that 2020 is a unique year when it comes to issues of poverty and food scarcity.
“In Canada, the impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and far-reaching,” she said.
“Food security issues have come to light for many people for the first time, and many Canadians have experienced food shortages or inability to access the products they take for granted,” Olfert explained.
“For people living in areas of extreme poverty, the impact of the pandemic is devastating,” she added.
Global food needs have also intensified during this year.
“In many other countries there are no safety nets like health insurance and unemployment benefits,” Olfert said. “Our pandemic monitoring shows that FH-supported communities are experiencing higher than usual risk of food insecurity, due to significant income loss, reduced availability of seeds for planting and food for consumption, and restricted access to markets for buying and selling.”
Yet, Olfert sees hope in the strength of local communities.
“The importance of community resilience has become more evident than ever during the COVID-19 crisis,” she shared.
In her work with Food for the Hungry, Olfert and her colleagues focus on the root issues of poverty.
“It’s important to note that poverty is an issue that stems from multiple factors and needs to be addressed holistically,” she said.
“FH is committed to an integrated, holistic approach to development, working in agriculture, education, health, livelihoods, and gender equality, as well as many other sectors.”
They also take a longer term approach.
“FH walks alongside the most vulnerable communities throughout the world building long-term relationships –10 years or more – utilizing asset based community development,” said Olfert.
She offers encouragement to local Canadians: “It is possible for one person to make a huge difference. And when people take small actions, and especially when they join together to partner with vulnerable communities, the progress is remarkable!”
Food Secure Canada reported that 4.4 million Canadians were experiencing food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this number is set to double.
Here in B.C., groups such as NutritionLink Services Society distribute annual grants to registered charities and other not-for-profit organizations who are working to improve food security projects for vulnerable B.C. residents.
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