At the Core of Food Banks – Fresh Food

Fresh and nutritious. This is a core goal of food banks. When clients enter a food bank, they are often surrounded by aisles of a variety of food, including fresh produce, frozen meat, and shelf-stable items that families would purchase at the grocery store. As a matter of fact, 40% of foods distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh. 

With many partners such as grocery stores, farmers and retailers, fresh food has become much more accessible to food bankers. Thanks to all this support, food banks can save on costs that can be invested in infrastructure and storage to keep food fresh and safe, which is one of the big focuses of food banks. 

Myles Vanni, Executive Director at the Inn of Good Shepherd, explained how they found the perfect way to make sure that their clients had access to the most nutritious food. 

“At our food bank, we have many programs, but one of our most successful is our mobile market, where we deliver high quality, fresh, perishable foods directly to partner sites” 

This program wasn’t easy to start, but it has turned into a resounding success. 

With clear excitement and enthusiasm, he explained how it all started. “We have been doing this for eight years. It started with trying to promote community gardens. We told people in our communities that if they were planting gardens and they had extra produce, to just bring it to the food bank. Although this was a successful program, there was a disadvantage. The program was working a little too well for us as we were getting more fresh food that we could distribute, and unfortunately some items were starting to spoil. This is when we decided to load our refrigerated trucks and bring the fresh produce directly to other sites, put the food on the table, and let people just serve themselves. Everyone loved this”. 

This program is now in high demand every year. 

“Clients in our communities loved that they were able to have access to fresh and nutritious food. We started getting calls from people asking us if we could do it again and the following year, we received a grant. Thanks to new funds, we were able to invest in storage and refrigerated trucks and do our mobile market every week from July to October, and we are up to 14 locations now. A side benefit is we have some farmers who wanted to donate, but they just did not want to pay for the transportation because it’s very costly for them. So, we talked to our government who passed a bill and gave a tax credit to farmers that donate to food banks and this increased the donations from the farmers”. 

And to their pleasant surprise, the amount of food distributed was more that they could ever imagine. 

“Last year, we distributed over 94,000 lbs. of fresh produce through the market. Over the 8 years of our market program, we have distributed over 737,000 lbs. of fresh produce!”, continued Myles proudly. 

And food bankers are always helping each other. At the UHC – Hub of Opportunities in Windsor, fresh produce is shared across communities. 

June Muir, Executive Director at the UHC explained. “We live in an area where we have the largest number of greenhouse growers in North America, and at our food bank, we have a beautiful 1.6 acre of land that has been transformed into community gardens, and we are rescuing a lot of fresh produce and sharing it throughout Ontario including the North. So, we are not only helping our communities but other communities as well”. 

And community gardens are just another way for clients to connect with each other. 

“We have about 200 community garden plots, where people can come in and just plant. No experience is required. What’s important to us is that they can find a place that they enjoy, and they can make some great connections. This is what food banks are all about.”, continues June. 

These are just a few examples. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank has also increased their focus on distributing fresh food to their communities. 

“At the moment, 50-60% of the food we distribute weekly is fresh. We distributed at least 2.5M lbs. of fresh food in the past year. This is possible due to our strong relationship with local farmers, wholesalers, and manufacturers. We are working with multiple retailers very closely, to rescue perfectly safe-to-eat food that would otherwise go to landfill. We have a primary focus on pre-consumer food, so our clients are getting the same quality food as they would at a grocery store”, says Jodie Ou, communications officer at the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. 

The summer months are usually a time when fruits are in abundance. Thanks to their partners, The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is able to pick up fresh fruits and bring it to clients. 

Each week, we pick up fresh produce, protein, dairy, and more, from local retailers. In the summer, we send a large, refrigerated truck to the interior to pick up a truck load of cherries, pears, apples, and more from our farmer partners at least a couple of times a month. We look forward to distributing cherries soon! 

And the clients really appreciate getting fresh food at the food banks.

The Ottawa Food Bank tells us the story of a struggling mom. “I got really ill at one point. I was on bed rest for a month. I was working at the time, and I lost my job. Because of that, it was hard times. And that’s when I started coming to the food bank. It helped. My daughter had snacks for school. She got fresh vegetables and fruits, which was crucial to her diet. If I needed to come to the food bank in the morning for breakfast because I didn’t have the food, it was right there. I don’t have any words to describe my gratefulness”.