Local Food Bank inviting residents to join Feast of Longing event

September 8, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

The Orangeville Food Bank is drawing inspiration from a different kind of war hero for its upcoming Feast of Longing event. 

Taking place next Saturday (Sept. 12), the Feast of Longing is a virtual dinner party. The brainchild of Heather Hayes, executive director at the local Food Bank, the event is borne out of a deep-rooted desire to celebrate and cherish the people most important to us during the most testing of times. Now, she’s calling on the community to get ready to pull out their fancy dinnerware, and make use of their favourite recipes to honour the occasion. 

“We’ve been thinking about doing some kind of fundraising event here at the Food Bank for some time now, and I think we’re all desperately in need of some kind of celebration right about now,” Ms. Hayes told the Citizen. “The people most in need of a celebration are the people suffering through the hardest of times, and we’re definitely going through that right now. So, we thought, let’s plan a virtual dinner party where people can stay in their bubbles, on their properties and in their homes, but give them the opportunity to pull out their very best of things.”

She continued, “I’m talking about that fancy china set you have that you’ve been waiting to pull out for a special occasion. Or that dinner set that was passed down from your parents, or grandparents, that you can’t wait to tell your children about. Then, once you’ve set your table, fill it with all the beautiful, delicious recipes that remind you about all the people who provided for you in the past, and made sure you always had food at the table while growing up.”

The Orangeville Food Bank is asking local residents to share photos or videos, which it in turn will post on its social media channels. 

The event, essentially, is a commemoration of the actions of Ethel Rogers Mulvany, a Canadian woman who persevered during the hardest of times, living through extremely harsh conditions, during the Second World War.

Originally from Manitoulin Island, Ms. Rogers was a teacher in her early years. Working in Toronto, she specialized in teaching early-year students, before eventually moving on to become the director of an arts and literature society in the city. In 1933, the society sent her on a tour of Asia to conduct an educational survey. While on her travels, she met Denis Mulvany, a British army doctor. The pair were eventually married.

In 1940, the pair moved to Singapore. They were on the island, at the time under British rule, when Japan invaded on Dec. 8, 1941. They were each taken as prisoners of war,  alongside over 2,400 others, and were stationed at Changi prison in the eastern part of Singapore. The couple were separated, with men sectioned off into one camp and women and children put into another. They seldom saw one another, and were moved around on multiple occasions over the years. Eventually, four years later, following the British liberation of Singapore in September 1945, the Mulvanys were released. While the pair survived the war, their marriage did not. Ethel returned home to Canada, with Dennis travelling back to his native England. 

While there are many, many stories to tell from Ethel’s time as a prisoner of war, it was her unique method of quelling starvation that resonates most with Ms. Hayes. 

“Ethel really was an outstanding human being. While there were several challenges to living in a prisoner of war camp, the biggest one was the lack of food. One day, after watching a friend, who at this point weighed less than 55 pounds due to starvation, pass away, Ethel decided to try something a little different,” Heather said. 

“During her dying hours, this friend wanted to talk about food. This got Ethel to wondering if talking about food could activate the salivary gland in the mouth. She wondered if that would bring a feeling of fullness to people, and almost food your body into thinking you weren’t starving to death,” she added. “She would get all of these women together for a ‘tea party’ every afternoon, and they would sit down and plan these elaborate meals.

“They would discuss even what kind of flowers they were going to have, what linens they would have on the tables, what the dishes would look like. Then they started to talk about the recipes. About the recipes they remembered, and the recipes they would make when they got home. It’s astounding that food would have that sort of power in such dire and bleak circumstances,” Heather finished. 

Upon her return to Canada, Ethel decided she wanted to, once again, do her part to help those still suffering with the after effects of the war. She compiled nearly 800 recipes recollected by the women at their tea parties into a cookbook. Sales from the cookbook raised around $18,000 for former prisoners of war still hospitalized in the UK. 

Today, a rare original copy of that Prisoner of War Cookbook resides at the Canadian War Museum. 

Heather says she hopes the Feast of Longing event serves as a special commemoration of Ethel and all of the amazing, selfless things she did throughout her life. The local Food Bank will be offering care packages to local residents who wish to participate in the event.

“We have lots of interesting things coming through the Food Bank right now. We’ve got some beautiful whole chickens, and we could absolutely put a package together for people to participate in this event with us,” Heather said. “We’d love that.”

While the Orangeville Food Bank is completely moved into its new facility at 3 Commerce Road, it has not yet returned to its traditional service model. The local organization typically operates on a shopping model, that allows individuals to pick out exactly what they want and need. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, they have been forced to transition to a different model.

“We have two models of service delivery right now – we have our walk-up or drive-thru to pick up food, or if you have a mobility issue, or are immuno-compromised, people can access their family doctors or case workers and send a referral to us and we can make a delivery of food to people,” Ms. Hayes said. 

The Food Bank hopes to relaunch its shopping model service in October. 

Due to the financial stresses brought on by the coronavirus crisis, more people than ever before are visiting, and making use of our local Food Bank. While numbers are way up over the past six months, with the facility registering, on average, over 100 new users per month since March, Heather says she’s noticed a more concerning long-term trend appear when studying her annual statistics.

“We’ve just finished our year-end stats, and if you compare 2019 from, say 2011, we have seen a 235 percent increase in the number of adults accessing the Food Bank. Women usage over that same period is also up around 235 percent,” Heather said. “Another statistic that took my breath away was the number of households who indicated employment is their sole source of income. So, we’re talking people who work, often full-time jobs, still not earning enough (to feed themselves and their families). In the last five years, that number has gone up 97 percent.”

Heather places the blame for that at the feet of the provincial government. With the cost of living going up each and every year, especially so in areas like ours that are in close proximity to the GTA, people who work minimum wage, $14 per hour positions often struggle to make ends meet. That isn’t going to change without government intervention, Heather says.

“$14 an hour, even full-time, isn’t enough to raise a family today. With the crazy cost of rent, or a mortgage, on top of rising food costs, people in our area are really struggling,” Heather said. “This system is not sustainable. We need to see some things from our government to change this. One of those is a guaranteed basic income, the other is an affordable housing benefit for individuals who need a rent supplement. Those things would probably help a lot of people who use the Food Bank, and stop them needing to come here.”

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