Three years ago, Edmonton’s Food Bank conducted a survey and discovered an astonishing 70 per cent of their clients were not connected to any other support services.

They decided to change that by creating a program called Beyond Food, a free service consisting of nine non-profit partners.

The program, which officially launched on May 23, offers services such as job readiness, access to free safety tickets, English and math upgrading, budgeting, personal counselling, housing information, and work experience opportunities.

“The Food Bank felt that this wasn’t its area of expertise, so they reached out to partners,” said David Berger, Beyond Food manager. “We’re all working together. We just want to meet the needs of the folks.”

Every partner provides different services. For example, Boyle Street Community Services has a full-time employee at the Beyond Food office to help people find jobs and study for safety tickets, while the City of Edmonton provides a social worker twice a week for counselling. Other partners include the Bissell Centre, The Learning Centre Literacy Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Habitat for Humanity, Edmonton Catholic Social Services, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and Edmonton’s Food Bank.

“In this economy, there’s significant stress. We’re short on the capacity to help people in need,” he said. “I think people are telling us they want to be connected to these resources. There’s an awful lot of poverty in this city.”

The program is a work in progress.

“About eight months ago, we reached out to employment readiness partners. We also wanted to look at the literacy and budgeting piece.”

To that end, the program has a learning lab that participants can use for tasks like math and English upgrading, obtaining a GED, and studying for safety tickets. And just recently, the partners held a job fair that attracted 600 people and 19 employers.

“One of the interesting things we’re working on is a pathway to employment,” Berger said.

Those interested in working in the construction industry may get a construction safety ticket through Beyond Food and work experience with Habitat for Humanity. The estimated 10 shifts at Habitat for Humanity gives participants a chance to use tools and get accustomed to a construction worksite.

“We’re developing links with larger construction companies in the city so community members can progress from securing a safety ticket to work experience and on to full-time employment,” he added.

Anyone can access Beyond Food, although it may be of particular interest to those who are unemployed or who live on low income. The program operates on a drop-in basis from Monday to Friday.

“Our focus is as much as possible to provide one-on-one service,” he said.

Participants can call or walk in, complete a registration sheet, and talk to one of the staff.

“We ask what service they’re interested in and go from there,” said Berger.

The outcome of this program is simple: “People feeling that they can manage their lives a little easier and achieve their goals toward greater stability and independence. It’s a recognition that we live in tough times and we have to come together as a community.”

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Featured Image: Wisam AbuRajab (employment readiness worker) (left) and David Berger (Beyond Food manager) (right) at the Beyond Food office. | Stephen Strand