LRCA rolls out new programs to increase food security and reduce food waste

New programs gather produce from local grocery stores, and teach food skills for families

LRCA volunteers sort through fresh produce (Submitted photo)

The LRCA is rolling out a full plate of new programs based around food security, and food waste reduction.

The recently unveiled Happy Returns program works with local grocery stores. LRCA volunteers pick up useable produce that would otherwise be wasted. Currently, volunteers only pick up produce from Save On, as they do not have the volunteer capacity to pick up from the 49th Parallel yet.

Food Bank volunteers have picked up bread and meat from both grocery stores for a long time, however the Happy Returns program was established just in June. The Happy Returns program is run in collaboration with Loop, an organization that aims to reduce food waste by giving would-be wasted produce to farmers and local charities.

“The farmers usually get to Save On at about three, so we go in before that, we pick through, and we take what we can use. Then we leave the rest, and the farmers go from there,” LRCA food security coordinator, Paula Masyk said.

Volunteers pick up a variety of produce. Some items, like pears and apples, can be offered fresh. Others, like Swiss chard are chopped up, and frozen to be given to people, or used in soup mixes.

“The beauty of it is that we can go as often as we can handle. We can take as little or as much as we want. We can pick what we think we can use, which is really important to us, because if someone dropped off a pallet of produce for us to go through we wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Maysk said.

The LRCA is quickly building capacity to sort through produce in preparation for the fall and winter. The food bank receives a high volume of produce from Kiwi Cove during the growing season, however they will depend on the Happy Returns program once the growing season is over.

Alongside the Happy Returns program, the LRCA runs a gleaners initiative where volunteers collect fruit from trees in local backyards. Home owners register their trees, then volunteers come and pick the fruit. One third goes to the home owner if they want it, one third goes to the pickers, and one third goes to the food bank.

“This is not only a great way to save the food that’s not being picked, but it’s also a good way for people who don’t have enough food to get free fruit,” Masyk said.

There are six weeks of courses that go along with the gleaning program to teach people how to use all the fruit they gather. The whole aim of the LRCA initiatives is to reduce food waste, and give it to people who are in need. These courses will help ensure that people are putting the produce to good use. The courses will run September 5 – October 10 on Thursdays.

In the fall, the LRCA is rolling out their Food Skills for Families classes. Food Skills for Families will cover a wide range of food preparation skills, so families can make their food, and their dollars, go further. Those classes will run October 22 – November 26 on Tuesdays, 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm.

“They’re filling up pretty well, but we do have a few spaces left in each one,” Masyk said.

While the LRCA is working tirelessly to save as much food as they can from being wasted, Masyk says there’s still “mountains of food” that can be saved.

“We’ve got a society where we’ve got food falling from trees and rotting, and then we’ve got people who don’t have enough food. Or people who could have food, but don’t know how to cook it… or how to make their dollar stretch further,” Masyk said.

“People are having to choose between paying their rent or buying food, or paying their hydro bill or buying food. If you can reduce on the food, maybe they’ll have enough money to put toward those bills, and it makes for a better, healthier life.”

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