Loblaws gift card inspires generosity — and skepticism — among Islanders

1 / 3
Grocery chain to begin home delivery in parts of Halifax

Many Islanders have pledged to donate their $25 Loblaws gift cards to food banks or other charitable organizations — happy news for P.E.I.'s Upper Room Hospitality Ministry, which runs the food bank and soup kitchen in Charlottetown. 

Loblaws opened applications for its gift card program Monday after admitting to the company's role in fixing the price of bread from 2002 to 2015. No proof of purchase is required — in P.E.I., you only need to be 18 or older to apply.

"Anytime we hear of anyone who wants to donate to us it is heartwarming, it makes you feel good," said Mike MacDonald, manager of the Upper Room. "Way too many people are in our community that need support from food banks." 

On the online application form, Loblaws tells applicants if they're approved, their cards could arrive in six to 12 weeks. MacDonald is hoping for a windfall then.

"We don't want to put goals in place — it could be a boon for us, could enable us to give out a little bit more food to the clients," MacDonald said. 

The food bank would use the gift cards to purchase more and different types of food, he said, depending on what type of volume they receive.  He notes when the food bank receives gift cards, they're usually used to purchase items people don't donate frequently, such as baby products like formula and diapers. 

'Gets where it should go'

I asked Islanders on Facebook what they planned to do with their cards.

"This is my small step to right an injustice," said Val Downe, who plans to donate hers to the Upper Room. 

Yogi Fell plans to donate hers to Gifts From the Heart, a non-profit organization that provides free food and clothing to Islanders in need.

Others said they would donate directly to someone who needs it more than they do.

"Mine will go to a person in my community who desperately needs it. Then I am sure it gets where it should go," commented Jeff Jardine. 

Accountants and lawyers on the Island have already challenged one another to raise the most for the food bank by donating their cards. 

Many staffers at the City of Charlottetown have decided to pool their cards and make one big donation from city hall.

"Everybody seems willing," said administrative assistant Jill Stewart, who came up with the idea and estimates they could raise as much as $1,500 for the food bank. 

Too much information

Some Islanders, however, don't like the fact that Loblaws plans to collect information on who receives the gift cards, as well as the information on what each consumer purchases with the card.

"The $25-card registration form asks for a lot of personal information, while their privacy policy employs vague grammar in the areas relating to how they'll use it. The policy seems a bit too janky for my comfort," noted Keith Burgoyne. 

"I was going to apply for the card then donate it to the food bank, but now I think I'll just make a donation to the food bank and forgo applying altogether. There are people who could use the donation. I don't need it," Burgoyne added. 

"I will not apply for one. An 'apology' or 'goodwill gesture' for purposely overcharging, for colluding to fraud consumers, that will serve to drive (more) consumers into their stores is such a sham," said Wendy Chappell. "It is an outrage as far as I am concerned."

"Hats off to Loblaws. They get a ton of personal information through phone numbers, home addresses and email addresses etc., plus people through their stores," noted Jim Brown. "All for a measly 25 bucks a person. Talk about a low cost of customer acquisition!" Brown is applying for one of the cards, though, and said he plans to donate it to the Salvation Army.

Although commenter Catherine Avery didn't say whether she would apply for a card, she was skeptical about the program.

"How much did they make? $25 is pennies to them. Sad that they feel this corrects things," Avery wrote. 

'$25 doesn't do much'

There are also at least two $1 billion class action lawsuits against multiple Canadian grocers, which some Islanders said they would join.

"I'm going to join the suit. $25 doesn't do much to offset the $7,000 that I was over charged," said Darcie Lanthier. 

The small catch is that for those who receive a gift card, the $25 will be deducted from any settlement from a lawsuit, the company has said.

Previously, the company had suggested that it was expecting between three and five million Canadians would sign up, bringing the price tag to up to $150 million worth of gift cards. 

Anyone who wants to participate in the Loblaws card program must do so by May 8. The card must be used to buy food products, not alcohol, tobacco, gasoline or cash withdrawals at in-store ATMs.

Some suggest spending the gift card on themselves and giving $25 in cash to charity, as cash may be cheaper for food banks to buy things in bulk.

But while "a financial donation gives us a little bit more flexibility," the Upper Room said it's happy to have the gift cards. 

"There's really no bad way to donate to us ... they're all the right way," said MacDonald. 

- MORE P.E.I. NEWS | Free legal advice will continue at Charlottetown court

- MORE P.E.I. NEWS | BY THE NUMBERS |  How P.E.I.'s minimum wage stacks up