British Columbia

Food recovered from Lower Mainland businesses has provided 870,000 meals so far this year

Local restaurants are donating extra food to help people struggling to put meals on their table, and are donating products that might otherwise go to waste.

A decline in customers has led to a surplus of product for many restaurants, coffee shops

Matchstick coffee shops started donating surplus baked goods from their five Vancouver locations in 2020. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

Local restaurants are donating extra food to help people struggling to put meals on their table, and are donating products that might otherwise go to waste.

Food recovered from restaurants, grocery stores and small businesses has provided 871,000 meals distributed to dozens of United Way food hubs across the Lower Mainland.

Matchstick Coffee, a popular Vancouver-based coffee shop, began donating loaves of bread and pastries that weren't sold by the end of the day more than a month ago.

"We're typically looking at anywhere from like 15 to 25 loaves of bread every other day, or every three days, and then also some pastries as well, like cookies, muffins, croissants," said Jordan Reuser, manager at the Yaletown location.

Food hampers filled with surplus that would otherwise end up at a landfill wait to be distributed to low-income households in Coquitlam. (Eva Uguen-Csenge/CBC)

"Historically, it was going to staff, which is like a nice perk of working here, but it's also just nice that we can divert it to some other people in need." 

Matchstick has partnered with Food Runners, an organization that picks up food from 27 businesses every week including other coffee shops like Grounds for Coffee, bakeries like Purebread and Terra Foods, and small grocers like Fresh Direct Produce.

Thousands of kilograms rescued weekly

Food Runners is one of five organizations that has been redistributing food to food hubs in the Lower Mainland.

Another organization, Immigrant Link Centre Society, collects approximately 15,000 kilograms of food from larger retailers and distributes it to low-income households, people who are newcomers to Canada.

The food hubs were already providing more than one million meals annually, but with the food recovered during the pandemic, that number has risen to around two million in 2020.

Bekhal Ali and her family immigrated to B.C. four years ago from Iraq and started receiving a weekly hamper full of produce, dairy, bread and meat more than a year ago.

"Sometimes there's no [necessity] to go grocery shopping," said Ali. "This is really amazing." 

Bekhal Ali helps pack hampers of groceries at a food hub in Coquitlam. (Eva Uguen-Csenge/CBC)

At first, Ali says she had some worries about the food's condition.

"But later when we go with them, we realize that the food is really in a good condition and everything," she said.

Ali and her husband were so inspired by the program's mission to eliminate food waste and help those in need that they signed up as volunteers at one of the food distribution hubs in Coquitlam.

Most of the food collected is past its best before date, or blemished, but is still fresh and safe to consume.

Jordan Reuser, manager at Matchstick's Yaletown location, slices a loaf of fresh bread. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

In Matchstick's case, changes to the number of customers during the pandemic makes it difficult to order enough supplies to satisfy demand without ending up with surplus.

"You don't know with new restrictions or with day to day, like even just based on the weather, who's going to come in and how many customers you're going to get," Reuser explained. "Our numbers are always changing and we have to kind of fine tune that."

In the meantime, Ali says the food recovery program is a "win-win" situation for everyone involved.

"It's for saving food and it's helping immigrant people, especially low income families, to get free food and everything."