Deal with Co-op brings more fresh food to Calgary Food Bank

Calgary Food Bank workers sorting through a delivery of food from the Calgary Co-op earlier this month. A pilot project between the food bank and the company has become a major success story. (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Calgary Food Bank workers sorting through a delivery of food from the Calgary Co-op earlier this month. A pilot project between the food bank and the company has become a major success story. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

A pilot project between a local grocer and the Calgary Food Bank is growing into a major success story, with more than a million pounds, or more than 450,000 kilograms, of food rescued and redistributed.

Calgary Co-op and the food bank launched an experiment last April at six grocery store locations to gather fresh food nearing the best before dates. The food comes from various departments and includes items like baked goods, meat, yogurt and produce.

The food bank arranged daily pickups because of the importance of distributing the food to clients on the same day.

"We rescue food that is no longer able to be sold for various reasons and we get it back to the food bank, quickly, turn it around and get it into our food hampers so that people that are experiencing food insecurity get the freshest food possible," said Betty Joe Kaiser, a spokesperson for the Calgary Food Bank.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

The consistent flow of fresh food is a welcome change, said Madison Beblow, who works at the food bank's warehouse. She is most impressed with how quickly the food is pulled from store shelves and put in the hands of those who need it.

"The most amount of time would probably be like three or four hours," she said. "We hand them out as quickly as possible, just so we can make sure we get them to clients as quickly as possible."

Proof of concept

Before the fresh food rescue program began, a majority of the items would end up in the compost, said Sage Pullen McIntosh, director of communications at Calgary Co-op. Not only does the project help the food bank, it's also a morale boost for grocery store staff.

"They're the ones who are filling the bins and helping transport the product. So they really get to see the fruits of their labour, and it is certainly very impactful for them," she said.

"And I would say it's really impactful for everyone who works at Calgary Co-op. We've got 3,800 team members and, for all of us, community is really front and centre for the work that we do."

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Others in the industry have approached Pullen McIntosh about the finer details of the program, which she's happy to share.

The program hasn't meant more work, said Skyler Schmidt, who works in Calgary Co-op's meat department.

"It's just a matter of handling the meats differently after we pull it off the counter, but the workload is about the same, actually. So it's really a win-win program for us and those less fortunate," he said.

"It's definitely a nice feeling to know that something positive is happening with this meat rather than going to waste," he said.

No longer in the pilot phase, the fresh food rescue program has now expanded to all of Calgary Co-op's 24 locations in the city.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC