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Yellowknife Food Rescue saved 170,000 kgs of food in 2014

The folks behind Yellowknife's Food Rescue program keep about 700 kilograms of food out of the landfill every day. 'When you think about the amount of food that was going into the landfill before food rescue, it's just kind of sad.'

'It's terrible to waste food,' says Jeff Kincaid. 'And it's expensive'

Dave Lovell gathers unsold food from the Yellowknife Co-op. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The folks behind Yellowknife's Food Rescue program keep about 700 kilograms of food out of the landfill every day, and volunteers say it's simple enough that it could be done in nearly any community.

"You never know what you're going to get," says volunteer Dave Lovell, who joins the group's sole paid employee four mornings a week to pick up unsold food from the city's grocery stores.

Lovell helps collect everything from meat and milk to cookies and shampoo to the group's small headquarters. There, volunteers will weigh it, sort it and then start figuring out where it should go. That could be the YWCA, school lunch programs, local shelters or to social workers who'll share the food among struggling families.

A former mayor of Yellowknife, Lovell says he looked into several charities when he retired, and ended up choosing this one, in part because of the simplicity of its mission.

"It does what it says it's going to do," he says. "It collects food and redistributes it."

'It started out pretty small'

That simplicity also appeals to Karen Pryznyk, who volunteers four mornings a week as a kitchen manager and says something similar could work anywhere.

"It started out pretty small," she says. That is, in the garage of Laurin and Ruby Trudel, who, earlier this year, received a Governor General's Caring Canadian award for their efforts.

"People can do that," Pryznyk says, "and then they just need to ramp it up."

Since 2008, the group has grown to include 30 volunteers, its own headquarters (in an out-of-the-way quonset hut) and a network of grocery stores willing to offload their goods.

The only legal hurdle to get started was crossed when the N.W.T. passed its 2008 Donation of Food Act, which protected grocers and others from liability if they donate food. A similar law was passed in Yukon in 2012 and in Nunavut in 2013.

The law was welcome news to businesses who previously took unsold food to the dump, often paying fees to get rid of it.

"It's terrible to waste food," says Jeff Kincaid, business development manager at the Yellowknife Co-op, an enthusiastic Food Rescue partner. "And it's expensive."

Room full of stuffed animals

Businesses like the program so much that Pryznyk says they have no problem getting donations. 

In 2014, the group took in 177,600 kilograms of food and merchandise, and donated 96 per cent of it to clients. Food that can't be donated to others goes into compost. Containers are broken down and recycled.

Occasionally, the challenge is finding a home for an unexpectedly large donation, like the time they got a call about a bread truck that went off the road. 

One time, shortly after Easter, they received "a living room full" of unsold stuffed animals. 

"They got donated to the pediatrics ward at the hospital," Pryznyk says.  

She grew up with parents who had lived through the depression, where kids cleaned their plates and food was never wasted.

"When you think about the amount of food that was going into the landfill before food rescue, it's just kind of sad."

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