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Edmonton Gleaners Association

In keeping with Edmonton’s early tradition of providing food and welfare relief, a pair of individuals met in April 1980 to discuss a social contract that would feed the hungry.

That meeting—suitably enough at Sacred Heart Church—would lead to the establishment of the Edmonton Gleaners Association, and later that year, the first food bank in Canada.

The word, "gleaner" derives from the phrase, "to gather by patient harvest," which is exactly the description of the association’s work in its formative years. The situation would change radically with the collapse of Alberta’s economy during the 1980s and the failure of banks, a drop in the real estate and energy markets, and the realization that even the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund was shrinking.

"The Edmonton Gleaners Association’s original mandate was to salvage food products deemed ‘waste’ by the local food industry and redistribute to member agencies that offered snack or meal programs," writes Kathryn A. Ivany, in her 2001 history of Edmonton’s Food Bank, Sharing the Harvest, "By 1983, however, as the public awareness of the Food Bank increased and the situation of many of the city’s poorest citizens worsened, the Association found itself on the front lines, providing emergency food hampers to individuals and families."

That the continued growth in the reliance on Edmonton’s Food Bank can be deemed to be a "success" is a somewhat bitter development. And that the city’s food bank spawned more than 650 similar operations throughout Canada over the past quarter-century speaks volumes to the despair still to be found in this country.

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