A new program in Nanaimo is diverting perishable food from the landfill to feed hungry people in the community.
Food 4U is a partnership between Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank and grocery stores, food wholesalers and trucking companies.
Since September, the food bank has provided participating grocery stores with clean plastic donation bins and daily pickup of perishable food items.
“It’s not just an initiative to get food to people who are hungry, it’s to get a better food system so we’re not, as a society, wasting thousands of kilograms of food each day,” said Peter Sinclair, Loaves and Fishes executive director.
“We’re just super excited about it and the response we’re getting from the community.”
The food that ends up in the bins includes a wide range of produce, dairy, deli and meat department products that have either a best before date that has just passed or the items are nearing the best before date, he said.
Sinclair said Food Banks Canada guidelines are followed, which indicate that some items can be consumed safely as much as a week after the best before date as long as the items are stored properly.
Often the food bank receives items such as milk that has a best before date about a week in advance of the donation – customers often reach to the back of the fridge to pick the cartons with the later best before dates – or items like pre-packaged boxes of strawberries where one strawberry has gone mouldy, but all the others are fine.
Sinclair said donating it to the food bank instead has a financial benefit because the store does not have to pay to recycle packaging and dispose of the product.
Haarsma Waste Innovations provides free waste disposal, recycling and compost services for the program.
Since September, the program has brought in more than 40,000 kilograms of food with a total value of more than $200,000 and that is just with two stores participating, although a third store recently signed on, said Sinclair.
“The potential for growth here is huge,” he said. “It’s not just a financial thing for [stores]. They realize it’s the right thing to do in the community. Often we have so much of it, we’re saying to clients, ‘Take as much as you want.’”
And food bank clients are not the only ones benefitting – Loaves and Fishes also gives food to other social service agencies such as the Salvation Army, Nanaimo 7-10 Club, Nanaimo Foodshare and John Barsby Secondary School’s breakfast program.
Participating stores wish to remain anonymous for now, but Sinclair said the food bank is working on an agreement with Target, which is scheduled to open in the next few months. Starting this week, people will be able to pick up Food 4U hampers on a weekly basis in addition to the biweekly hamper program.
Sinclair got the Food 4U idea after touring another food bank with a similar program in June 2011 and since then, the food bank has focused on getting the infrastructure needed – a walk-in cooler, full warehouse with forklift and daily trucking service.
The food bank also used a $7,000 grant from Kraft Canada to install a bin washing station, a $2,000 grant from Nanaimo Rotary Club to buy the bins and $65,000 from the City of Nanaimo to buy a refrigerated, five-tonne truck.