British Columbia

Victoria's market-style food bank lends dignity to those who use it

It’s been a year since the Mustard Seed’s food bank in Victoria was renovated to give users a comfortable grocery store experience, one that would help to empower users and break the stigmas of food bank use. 

Choice of items in grocery store setting have boosted dignity and health, say employees

The Mustard Seed Street Church, on Queens Avenue in Victoria, is celebrating one year since it renovated its food bank to resemble a grocery store interior. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

It has bread and dairy aisles and a fresh array of fruits and vegetables.

At first glance, you wouldn't even guess the Market at the Mustard Seed Street Church in Victoria is a food bank.

And in the year since the site was renovated to give users a comfortable, grocery-store experience, it's helped to empower those who use it and break the stigmas of food bank use, according to organizers.

"We've said, you know what? You're valuable. We want to set you up for success," Mustard Seed's director of development Janiene Boice said of those who frequent the food bank.

"Look at this gorgeous place. Come and shop. It's not a big deal." 

The food bank's market-style design is rustic, inviting, and professional. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

'Showing love through food'

Boice said the decision to move from a model with pre-made food hampers to offering customers choices on what to eat has made a difference for the people who use a food bank.

Her voice thick with emotion, she spoke of a young mother who'd been spending time in a local transition house.

"She was able to pick her daughter's favourite cookie. [It's] so simple, but as moms, showing love through food is a big deal," Boice said.

Anita Zacker is an employee, single mom, and former food bank user who said she was once having trouble making ends meet.

"I decided to come to the Mustard Seed. Everyone was so kind and accepting, and it made me feel so supported," Zacker said.

Anita Zacker, a Mustard Seed employee and former food bank user, says the market-style interior has brought dignity back to those who use the food bank. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Zacker said the radical, rustic-looking redesign — created with the help of HeroWork, a local non-profit aimed at upgrading buildings that house charities — has brought dignity to the community, helping users understand that it's OK to use a food bank if they need help.

"I [love] seeing their excitement, and they're so thankful when they leave," she said.

Visible boost in health

Zacker added that the new food bank can offer choices for people with religious dietary needs, along with gluten-free and diabetic-friendly items. The produce comes from grocery stores across the Capital Regional District.

Diane Lynn Pearson, the co-ordinator for guest services, says the increased choice has brought a palpable wellness to the people who use it.

"I've heard from one of our longtime volunteers that some people using our services visibly look in better health when they come in," she said. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables come from local grocery stores, and are displayed attractively in the produce aisle at the Mustard Seed food bank. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC)

Boice said the market's success has also created more need for volunteers, as well as for popular items such as canned tuna, salmon and other proteins.

"If you would eat it, please donate it," she said.

Hygiene products, soaps and dish detergent are also in high demand over the holidays, Boice added.

CBC British Columbia is holding its 33rd annual Open House and Food Bank fundraiser on Friday, Dec. 6. You can visit or call in to donate then, or go to


Adam van der Zwan is a journalist for CBC, based in Victoria, B.C. You can send him a news tip at

With files from David Malysheff