The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Porkgate Square One: Harvest insider speaks up

Citizen journalism is literally rewriting the rules of reporting. And one of those new rules is 'everybody knows something'. That means that, thanks to the internet, everyone with personal knowledge can add his or her voice to a story without going through a gatekeeper "professional" reporter for approval.

We've been getting an earful from readers about the Picket Pork scandal since our last story.
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2009/02/memo-to-gordon-sinclair-northcotts.html


Thanks to them we now know important details of how the government-subsidized pork wound up in the mouths of Free Press employees instead of the poor and hungry it was intended for. And we are one step closer to identifying the person responsible for diverting the food from the needy to the greedy.

While some of the info we got has to remain confidential, we also received this detailed response from a Winnipeg Harvest insider. It's long, but read it all; its worth the time and effort.


*******************

You asked for it, now you got it. I will explain everything I know about Winnipeg Harvest, it's distribution systems, and everything else I can. I do not give you the permission to post my last email, I CC it to myself as well as to others and I do not give you the permission to post it. I will however allow you to post this email on your site because I am going to be as transparent about my experiences at Harvest as possible for I feel that I have nothing to hide. I would like to demand that you post the whole email intact, without omitting any of the points or information I have written.

Also, I would like to make sure it is understood that this email is strictly my personal opinions and observations which I will let you know about, and Winnipeg Harvest does not know I am doing this, nor do they necessarily agree or disagree with any of the things I will post throughout this email.

Now let's start with the basics of daily operation. I used to open the Harvest warehouse at approximately 7 AM Monday to Friday. I was basically in charge of unlocking the shipping gated area, turning off the alarms, turning on the lights to the warehouses, letting in any of the early morning volunteers that show up to help fill orders, drive trucks, or perform any other needed duties.

We at Harvest have one major difference compared to other shipping departments in corporate warehouses and that is that our stock is constantly changing. Sometimes we have crackers, sometimes we have pancakes, sometimes we have received bread dough some times we have received expired soda etc. For this reason we have a method of distributing the extra goods before they spoil, or take up too much warehouse space. The method is simple but effective. It is called the "Add to food banks list".

It was my job to take a morning walk around the warehouse to see what needed to be added to the Add to food banks list. This list was constantly changing because our stock is constantly changing. I will give you an example of what I would do. I would walk into the cooler and see what we needed to move quickly and I then I would estimate as to how much to add. Sometimes we would get a pallet of yogurt that was about to expire so I would make sure to add yogurt to my list.

The list would read as follows:

Add to foodbanks list

Item Per House Hold Amount Location
Large Plain Yogurt One tub or tray Cooler

Crackers One box Floor

Canned Cola 4 cans Floor

Frozen Pork 1 KG PKG Freezer


This list was hand written and would be different every day because of our changing stock. The Add to food banks list is added to our regular orders. The orders are dealt with in the following ways. The orders follow a bi-weekly system so every 2 weeks Siloam Mission Food Bank has an order. There were on average approximate 20 to 25 orders a day. Agencies that receive orders are food banks, soup kitchens, meal snack programs(after school food programs, the boys and girls club for instance) and day cares.
An example of an order is as follows:

Siloam Mission Food Bank
Address etc.
Time of Delivery

Vegetables ______ 100 Lbs
Fruit ______ 100 Lbs
Milk(for households with children) ______ 33 Liters
Baby food ______ 25
Formula ______ 4 cans
Diapers size 1 ______ 2 (PKGs of 6)
diapers size 2 ______ 0 " "
diapers size 3 ______ 1 " "
Boost or ensure ______ 10 cans
Bread ______ 100 Loaves
ETC.

Now the amount of food that is listed on the above food orders for food banks is based on how many households that are on the list that day. This number is constantly changing because people stop needing to use the food banks one day or new food banks recipients are added. So during one bi-weekly cycle Siloam Mission Food Bank may have 100 households to distribute to and the next week they may have 120. Now the amount of baby products, milk, boost/ensure, dog food, and other things on the order is based on how many house holds have children, how many households have pets, if the recipients have diabetes or other medical conditions. These variables are processed by the 2 staff in the agency office. They email or call with the changing numbers every 2 weeks and then she enters the new variables on to the order list.

So the base amount of vegetables, fruit, bread, kits, onions, potatoes are usually set to one pound per house hold, and we will give more, if we have more to give. Sometimes we suddenly receive a huge amount of bread, so that day I have to double or triple bread. Sometimes Peak of the market will drop off 6 pallets of Carrots so I have to double or triple the amount of vegetables that we give out. How we determine how much to double or triple vegetables is usually based on a list that we have.

We have a daily list that tells us how many households we have for that day. So say we have 600 households today, and we have 2 full pallets of lettuce to give away because it is starting to sweat in the bags, then we will count the total amount of bagged lettuce that we have and divide it between the amount of households that we have for that day, or for the next couple of days. We can then determine that we can get rid of this pallet of lettuce in 2 days if we double the amount of bags. Now as for lettuce, we are usually swimming in it. There are different sizes of bags, but we usually have lots of small and big bags. Lettuce takes up a lot of valuable cooler space so it is usually a high priority to get rid of it. The problem with lettuce is that there is only so much you can give away to one household. Some house holds are just one senior citizen widow, and it is hard to give that one person 5 lbs of shredded bulk lettuce that was produced for say subway sandwiches, or some other corporation. So we usually have a limit of giving away a maximum of 3 small bags or heads of lettuce per household, or one extra large bag per house hold.

As for the Soup Kitchens, day cares, or meal snack programs, their orders were based on the amounts of people they will feed within a two week period. So say Sister Mac Boys and Girls club feeds 30 kids a day, then their order will be based on those numbers. The agency office will work together with that agency to see what they need to feed their people. These numbers usually didn't change much from week to week. Also we do not use the add to food banks list for these meal program agencies. Also, these agencies get priority for bulk items because it is easier for them to use huge bags of lettuce or bulk bread dough than distributing those giant bags of produce or product to 100 different households. Also, when I saw that I would have a Soup Kitchen order, then I would scramble to get rid of a lot of strange odds and ends that I could not give to normal food banks. 2 bulk boxes of habanero peppers for instance, or a 4 liter pail of cottage cheese, or a 20 lbs box of butter.

I would like to further stress that yes we did get "luxury food items" donated to Harvest like 5 gallon pails of ice cream, or one or two Giant wheels of brie cheese, but you can't make the recipients of harvest feel bad for this, these products are usually on the verge of spoiling, or they have torn packaging so they can't be sold in the stores so instead of these things getting thrown into the landfill, they were donated to Harvest so they could be used. Now a giant 5 gallon pail of ice cream is pretty much impossible to distribute to 150 households at a food bank, so they are usually given to soup kitchens and snack programs that cook for huge amounts of people.

Now you mentioned to me that your news agency received an email from a food bank client about how they had not received pork that week, while the free press got some. Like I said before stock is constantly changing. So maybe that week we had finished distributing all of the pork on hand, so unfortunately until we get the next shipment in, the food banks clients will not receive pork. That is just the way the food bank works though. If we get 6 pallets of bananas on a Thursday afternoon that will be rotten and dripping by next Monday, then that means that on Friday we are breaking our backs to get rid of those bananas that will not make it through the weekend. It is just the way it is when you get varying stock, from random sources, at random times, and at random levels of decomposition.

I would like to take this time to let you know that we do get visits from health inspectors, and we are always very concerned with what we are giving to our people. When it comes to bread, we try to never give it out if it has expired. Yes sometimes people get food that is moldy or questionable, but it is our goal at Harvest to avoid these situations whenever possible.

Now I would like to talk about waste. Yes sometimes Harvest has to waste food, it is just the way dealing with food is. Like I stated before, once we received 20 pallets of bananas on a Thursday and the thing with bananas is when they are huge 2000lbs plus pallets they start to cook in the boxes. So the bananas may look great when we get them, but within 2 days they will be super hot cooked bananas in the box that will be juicing everywhere. So now, yes we have a distribution problem, as you stated. There are only so many bananas you can give away in a day and half. So on that Friday I use my add to food banks list and I put 10 pounds of bananas per household. That is an extreme amount of bananas, let me tell you. If you are a single person and you get 10 lbs or bananas in one day, it takes a lot of work to eat them, give them away. There are only so many smoothies that one person can consume in a 3 day period.

During these "over stock emergencies" everybody in the warehouse is trying to contact as many agencies as we can to come and get some bananas. I think that in one day we distributed 7 pallets of bananas, which is a huge feat. Each pallet is over 2000 pounds, so that is somewhere near 14000 pounds of expiring bananas that we got rid of. Now what happened to the other 13 pallets of bananas? Well if they went bad, then we have to send them to the dump. There is just no way around it. We tried our best to deal with this major stock issue, and now we have to get rid of the cooked bananas. I saw this as a major issue when I worked at Harvest, so I started a composting program to at least divert some waste away from the landfill. We ended composting 6 pallets of bananas and the rest had to go to the dump. The compost was taken by Samborski Garden Supply who has donated compost bins to Harvest as well as them picking up compost at Harvest instead of Harvest having to deliver the compost.

So because of these issues, sometimes a food bank will get grapes on Monday and another food bank will receive sour cream on Friday. That is just the way dealing with the type of stock we receive with is. So yes some food banks could have not received pork on Monday or Tuesday, but then suddenly on Wednesday we receive 24, 3000 lb pallets of pork and then we have to deal with storage issues. You can guarantee that if we got the pork early enough that day that I will go above and beyond to add pork to the orders that day.

Now let's deal with the "pork fiasco" story that does not want to go away in the news. That week we had suddenly received a huge shipment of pork. So due to rotation issues and storage space issues, we have to move out as much freezer stock as possible. When these issues happen, we try to give away misc freezer stuff like mixed pallets of bulk items from sysco which might contain torn bulk chicken bags, fries, frozen peas and so on to soup kitchens and other agencies in a "surplus" type fashion. We will arrange a special event where agencies come to Harvest and pick through numerous excess pallets that we have to get rid of to make room in our coolers or freezers. WE ARE NOT LIKE A CORPORATION!!! We have a limited budget, and because of this we have a limited amount freezer space, cooler space and non perishable items space. When these situations happen we have to try our best to make room, find room, get rid of lower priority items. If we get 20 pallets of soon to expire imitation crab meat, it will have a higher priority than say, bulk lettuce bags. So we will try to distribute as much as possible, and dispose of what we can.

Now what happened with the pork situation was that we realized that we has suddenly receive more than we could store. So we called various agencies around Winnipeg and rural Manitoba to see if they were interested in getting pork meat to distribute to their food bank clients, or communities. So within a several day period we had probably more than 20 agencies show up at Harvest to receive some pork meat. Some agencies could only handle to take 4 cases, while others who had large communities to feed, and who had appropriate transportation methods took more.

One of the many agencies that came to pick up from Harvest, decided all on their own to drop off a load of pork to the strikers. We did not authorize them to do that, we did not know it had happened until the news had broke about it. All of the staff were shocked at the way this happened.
Now we are not saying that we would not have helped the strikers if they needed help, we are saying that we have an intake process and we usually demand that if somebody needs help, that they have to go through an intake process with our intake staff. These staff ask questions like what are the clients Social Insurance Numbers, how many kids that the client is supporting, how many people in their household, what is their financial situation and other things. All I know is that this is the proper channels to go through if you need help from Harvest. You have to call and make an appointment.

As the executive director of our organization, David had to speak on our behalves. The thing is that David's job is to deal with public relations and to deal with the Harvest board. He also has to try and get funding for different things at Harvest. He isn't one of the guys driving the forklift. So he did investigate what had happened, he spoke to the agencies office, to the shipping department and he had to go to deal with it at the free press. Now because he is not a blue collar worker, he may not know the exact methods in which we do things, he is not perfect in that regard, but he tried his best in dealing with the seasoned veterans in the journalism field. I do not speak for David, but he may have said contradictory things throughout this problem, but that is the way it is to be human. You say things that don't always make sense, you say this when you mean that etc. I am not excusing all of the things he may or may not of said during this situation, I am just saying that people make mistakes, people say stuff that they may not know will look bad to other people. We are all just human, and David is especially human.

I am asking you as journalists to please stop splitting hairs here. We can look over the manuscripts of what David Northcott said at 3:54 PM on this news station and compare them to what he said at 8:32 PM on this day to that person etc. He is not perfect. Anyone can find the flaws in what people have said if they just read and reread and investigate people constantly. It is easy to find faults in everyone if you are constantly searching for them. You know damn well what sound bites are, and with sound bites you can affect the way people are perceived and the way the story sounds to others. That is why I am demanding that you post this whole email on your site, instead of taking this section, and that section just to make your story seem a certain way.

Yes David has stated that he is happy they got the pork, or that we would support them if they needed it. He is a humanitarian, he works at a non-profit committed to distributing surplus food to Manitoba's needy. Of course he will not bash these Union people, and he will treat them with graciousness. He is a good man, a loving man.

Now i hope that what I have typed will help people understand that at Harvest we are just a non-profit organization who are trying our best to do a good job at distributing excess or donated food. We do make mistakes, because we are all only human, and I hope you can forgive this mistake that happened. Please allow us to move on from this dark time, and support us in our goals to eliminate hunger in Manitoba. Also, please remember that David just suffered a major health issue, thank god he did not die and please stop harassing him. He needs to heal, so let him heal and move on to the next sensational story!

Damien Gagné
Past Winnipeg Harvest Employee

PS. I forgot to mention something. Stock levels are cyclical. An example being that around this time of year we start running low on non perishables but during christmas stock levels increase. Also there are times when we almost have no food. Its kind of like we are either feasting or dealing with famine. I forgot to mention that it is our policy to accept all donations. Also this this is very important. If harvest wasn't here, most of our donations would just end up in the landfill. Yes you can post my name.

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