New food box service combines caring hearts, powerful partnerships to fight food insecurity

·2 min read
Heidi Ellis, purchasing manager with The Organic Box, and Julia Tran, food dignity program manager with the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative, are collaborating on Khair for All, a new affordable food box service in Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)
Heidi Ellis, purchasing manager with The Organic Box, and Julia Tran, food dignity program manager with the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative, are collaborating on Khair for All, a new affordable food box service in Edmonton. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC - image credit)

A new social enterprise is tackling food insecurity in Edmonton, one box at a time.

Khair for All is an affordable weekly food service that sells deeply discounted boxes of fruits and vegetables. Launched last week by the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative (MCHB), the service has been created to help lower-income families.

The logistics are handled by The Güd Box, a sister company to The Organic Box that specializes in food box fundraisers, and the co-operative has partnered with nearly a dozen social agencies that host pickup locations.

Those partnerships pack a lot of power, said Julia Tran, MCHB's food dignity program manager. Bringing agencies together, linking up with an experienced operator and leveraging existing infrastructure gives the social enterprise more buying power and reduces the duplication of volunteer efforts between agencies.

"We can bring greater co-ordination and greater collaboration to Edmonton's food sector," she said.

MCHB raised $45,000 in startup capital and surveyed more than 500 Edmontonians experiencing food insecurity before launching the program. Data from the survey helped shape the boxes' size and contents.

"It was very shocking to see how many community members were experiencing food insecurity and they were not accessing any sort of food support program," Tran said.

A tested model

The social enterprise is deliberately not screening clients' incomes before they buy boxes.

"We really want to honour the dignity of the families that we serve," Tran said.

Nothing stops a wealthier family from buying boxes, though they are encouraged to donate through the program.

Khair for All is modelled after the Bow Valley Good Food Box, a similar initiative operated by the Bow Valley Food Alliance with The Organic Box.

Heidi Ellis, purchasing manager for The Organic Box, said the partnership is a natural fit. From its coolers to pallet jacks to a well-oiled delivery machine, Ellis said the company could easily handle hundreds of weekly orders.

"We have the space and we have the expertise that a lot of the community partners don't have," she said.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

What's inside

A small box costs $25 and a large one costs $50. Currently, the produce box includes a selection of fruits and vegetables plus a dozen eggs. This week's boxes included onions, cabbage, kale, cucumber, tomatoes, papaya and lemon, among other items.

There are plans for a dry goods box that includes pantry essentials like oil, rice, flour and pasta.

Tran said families that have received the boxes so far have been surprised by the volume of food they contain.

Khair for All takes orders every Monday on its website, and orders can be picked up from one of five local agencies or be delivered for a $6 fee.

The word khair packs some extra meaning into the service's name, Tran said.

"The word comes from Arabic and Urdu," she said. "It means benevolence. It means care, it means blessings."

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