Nfld. & Labrador·Fed Up

This tiny town's bulk buy program is fighting food insecurity

CBC NL has collaborated with Food First NL, the province's not-for-profit organization that works to improve access to food, for a yearlong series that explores the issue.

Bauline, with a population of about 450, has started a food hamper program

Donna Connors, Bauline's assistant town manager, helped get the bulk buy food program off the ground. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The town of Bauline, which has a population of about 450, is thinking big — or rather, in bulk — when it comes to fighting food insecurity.

Just last month, the town, about 20 kilometres from St. John's, started a bulk buy food program. The idea is to help people in the community, especially seniors, get healthy and affordable food. 

One in eight Canadian households is affected by food insecurity, according to Proof, a research team dedicated to investigating food insecurity at the University of Toronto. Newfoundland and Labrador now has the highest rate of food insecurity among Canadian provinces — 15.9 per cent, according to the same research organization.

Participants pay $20, and a typical hamper includes chicken, vegetables, fruit, eggs, yogurt and other items. 

"It's simple, but it makes sense," said Deputy Mayor Joanne Whalen.

The program is open to town residents, but seniors get priority. Each person's $20 is matched with funds from a provincial grant program. Volunteers from the community then take the money and go to St. John's to buy groceries wholesale, when possible, and then prepare the food hampers. 

Joanne Whalen, deputy mayor of Bauline, says the bulk buy program has been a success. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Donna Connors, the assistant town manager, came up with the idea, after working for various non-profit groups in St. John's for last 15 years. 

"Food insecurity is an issue that is ongoing. It's always been there," Connors said. "It's just a no-brainer to be able to offer such a program to people."

The more — people and money — the merrier

The first month, the town distributed hampers to 10 families. This month, the number increased to 25. Connors said as more people join the program, and pay the $20 fee, the town is able to buy more food in bulk to share.

"Obviously the value increases, the money increases," Connors said.

A good deal on food is one thing, but a good deal on nutritious food is even better, said Whalen. 

"It's no surprise to anybody that a lot of 'convenience foods' are low cost. Canned goods, processed food. And for those on a fixed income, it can become items they go to on a regular basis," she said.

"But when you have a program like this and you're able to cost-share, even if you just pool your resources … they're getting real food, vegetables, fruits, meats that they might not otherwise be able to access."

Building healthy habits, and community

Carol King, a senior in the community and a member of town council, has high praise for the program. She bought a hamper last month. 

"I think it's wonderful," King said.

"I get to share it with my grandkids and my kids, especially the big tubs of strawberries and the big bunch of bananas and stuff. The kids love that stuff, so little gifts from Nanny and Poppy go a long way with them."

Carol King, a town councillor in Bauline, was one of the first recipients of a hamper in the bulk buy program. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Connors echoes the sentiment that the program isn't just feeding people but also bringing them together. 

"We're still a community [where] if somebody needs a loaf of bread you can borrow it next door…We're still close enough that once one person hears or one person sees, for sure [the program] will exponentially grow."

Connors said she really believes it can work in other communities And the beauty of a program like the one in Bauline? It's incredibly easy to run.

"You can run it with a couple of people," Connors said. "A couple of people doing the shopping, and if you get contacted by a distributor, then you're talking about one day to pick up … then a good few volunteers to dish it out. We're probably talking five people for a half-day."

The town hopes to secure more provincial funding for the program. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

The Town of Bauline hopes the provincial government will give it funds exclusively for the bulk buy program in the future, but has not yet heard back on that request.

The town has spoken with other municipalities to see if this program could work in their communities, as well as working with food distributors. Whalen said the program will continue at least through the winter months since it's a particularly tough time for people to get out to grocery stores.

"We're very fortunate to have such a great, connected community," Whalen said.

"[Food] is a basic need, and it's good to have access to all that good food, clean, healthy."

Fed Up is a yearlong series by CBC NL, in collaboration with Food First NL, exploring the issues surrounding food insecurity and why many people in the province struggle to access food.

Follow CBC's Fed Up series over the next year.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Alex Kennedy works in St. John's for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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