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Grocery rescue program: A community food chain that gives strength to its weakest links

A group of volunteers in Grande Prairie is looking for ways to expand a pilot project that helps grocery stores donate fresh food that would otherwise go to waste.

Volunteers hope to expand project that connects perishable goods with agencies in need

Cheryl Stetsko Mayne launched the Food Connectors project in 2017, recruiting friends to shuttle van-loads of donated fresh food to Grande Prairie charities and social service centres. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

A group of Grande Prairie volunteers wants to expand a pilot project to help grocery stores donate fresh food that would otherwise go to waste.

Cheryl Stetsko Mayne launched Food Connectors in 2017, after talking to a grocery store employee about how much food is thrown out when it isn't sold by its expiry date.

People just see the value of it, of connecting people around food.- Cheryl Stetsko Mayne, Food Connectors

"It's just something that came into being," Stetsko Mayne said. "People just see the value of it, of connecting people around food."

She recruited a group of friends to help shuttle van-loads of produce to local charities and outreach agencies that serve meals to people in need, including the Saint Lawrence Centre, the Elders' Caring Shelter and the emergency youth shelter.

The Food Connectors crew picks up boxes of fresh food from a local Safeway store on weekends and holidays, when customers are less likely to buy the items before they expire.

In the past year, the group has rescued and delivered more than 100 loads of fruit, vegetables and other fresh food.

Stetsko Mayne, who is a registered dietitian, said the program feeds into her love of nutrition while cutting food waste in the community.

Now she wants to expand the pilot project to include more stores and more volunteers.

"It's about community. It's about sharing and it's about the abundance that we have within the community that we can share with these other organizations," Stetsko Mayne said.

"Our goal is really to bring on many other stores that have an interest and see the value in being able to share the abundance of food or the additional food that they might have," she said.

"As opposed to paying the waste charges and letting it go to waste."

'Food connects people'

At the Saint Lawrence Centre, a drop-in for Grande Prairie's homeless people, the donations rarely last more than a day, said outreach worker Nicole Calvert.

Even more significant, Calvert said she has witnessed a shift in attitudes at the centre since joining the Food Connectors' network. 

"There's more smiling, there's more full bellies," Calvert said. "They're already struggling this much — to take away that struggle of daily food, it does something to them. It's nourishing."

Nicole Calvert, who works at Saint Lawrence Centre, said the fresh food donations are making a difference for people who use the daytime shelter. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Fresh food donated through the project now accounts for about three-quarters of the meals served at the Saint Lawrence Centre, Calvert said, including a weekly Saturday evening meal that feeds up to 75 people.

The remainder of the food, usually non-perishable items, is provided by volunteers and the local food bank.

Combined, the donated food can feed up to 60 people a day during its drop-in centre hours.

"Food allows that connection and that's a pivotal point where stuff happens for these people who are struggling," Calvert said. 

"It brings everyone together. It's the universal language of food."

@ZoeHTodd

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Alberta, filing videos and stories for web, radio and TV.

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