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'Absolutely healthier': Mississauga Food Bank clients say new program offers fresher options

A new program run by The Mississauga Food Bank partners with grocery stores and collects fresh food that would otherwise be thrown out due to cosmetic reasons or overstocking.

ReclaimFRESH has partnered with 20 Mississauga grocery stores to collect produce

Jane Sangster is a client of The Compass, a food bank in Mississauga. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Jane Sangster says she never imagined she would need to use a food bank, but now that she's off work on disability, she relies on them.

"I've been sick for a number of years and I only get 60 per cent of my salary, so I need the food banks to feed me, to meet my minimum food requirements."

Sangster is a client and a volunteer at The Compass in Mississauga, which receives food from The Mississauga Food Bank. The 53-year-old says she's noticed a big difference in the last few months when it comes to fresh and healthy food — noting an increase in fruit and vegetables.

It's partly due to a new program that was launched by The Mississauga Food Bank called ReclaimFRESH. It partners with grocery stores and collects items that would otherwise be thrown away, rescues the food and gets it into the hands of people who need it.

It's happening in a city where there have been more than 133,000 food bank visits so far in 2019 and a 16 per cent increase in those visits in the last fiscal year, according to a report released earlier this month titled Who's Hungry: Profile of Hunger in the Toronto Region.

ReclaimFRESH collects items like fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products that might otherwise be thrown out by grocery stores. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"It makes an enormous difference because those foods cost a lot of money in the grocery stores and those are the foods people don't spend money on because they can't get that much food for their money," Sangster said, adding that often clients will opt for less healthy options because they're cheaper.

'Changing how Canadians think about food'

Meghan Nicholls, executive director of The Mississauga Food Bank, says since the program launched six months ago, 20 area grocery stores have signed up to be a part of it.

"For people who are using food banks, whether for a short period or a long period, helping them stay healthy also contributes to their success in life. And so we want to make sure the food we are providing is as healthy as possible."

Nicholls says typically the food might not look perfect but it's still perfectly good to eat. 

"I think it's changing how Canadians think about food," she said.

Meghan Nicholls, executive director of The Mississauga Food Bank, says so far they've partnered with 20 grocery stores, but they hope to see that number grow. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"People want carrots that look long and thin with the beautiful green top like you draw with a crayon when you're a kid, but food sometimes comes out of the ground looking weird and there's no reason you can't eat it."

Nicholls says in addition to feeding more people in the community, they're also reducing waste.

The Mississauga Food Bank estimates it can provide an additional five million meals in five years if the program continues to grow.

Reducing waste

Mubin Atcha, operations manager at Iqbal Halal Foods in Mississauga, says one of the downsides of the industry is the amount of food waste, and he's happy to partner with food banks to help solve that issue.

"There's perfectly good food that we have to put in the back, and if there's food banks that want to take it, we give it to them."

Atcha says he feels a responsibility as a business in the community to give back, and says he's partnered with several food banks.

Mubin Atcha, operations manager at Iqbal Halal Foods, says donating to food banks is a good way to tackle the waste problem that most grocery stores face. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"I think every supermarket big and small should get involved, I don't think there should be a single person that should not have food."

He says the food they're donating is "perfectly good." Some items, he says, might just have a couple of cosmetic blemishes.

Sangster says she's feeling "absolutely healthier and stronger" since fresh produce started appearing more at her local food bank.

"It's what I want to be eating. It's what makes me feel good."

CBC Toronto has launched our annual Sounds of the Season fundraiser in support of GTA food banks. Click here for more on how to donate food or money, and we hope to see you at our open house on Friday, Dec. 6.

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