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Game-changing program diverting food to the hungry in Chilliwack

Three-month pilot project saw food waste donations redirected to make an estimated 250,000 meals
A Chilliwack Food Bank worker unpacks a box of fresh strawberries that was among the six pallets of boxed produce, dairy, baked goods and more that had just arrived from Save-On-Foods. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

The idea is curbing food waste down to nothing — and it’s working.

The past four months Chilliwack has been the pilot site for a food-waste diversion project that’s being called a “game-changer.”

Save-On-Foods joined forces with Food Banks BC, FoodMesh, Loop Resource, and charities like Chilliwack Salvation Army to reach the goal of “zero surplus and potentially wasted food” ending up in the waste stream.

A lot has been accomplished in under a year.

“Every item they can’t use, we are getting it,” said Don Armstrong, coordinator of the Chilliwack Salvation Army Food Bank, picking up some fresh asparagus and packages of sushi received from Save-On to show the reporter.

The Progress stopped by the Chilliwack Food Bank Friday to see how the pilot project was working, as Sally Ann volunteers and staff combed through six pallets of boxed produce, dairy, baked goods from Save-On-Foods.

Out of a week’s worth of food, they maybe had one garbage bag full they couldn’t put to use.

“The program works fantastic,” said Armstrong, adding that they can use about 90 per cent of what they have been getting, and then the farmers will come by every day and pick up what is left over to feed their livestock.

“It means zero waste. Nothing is going into the dumpster.”

Chilliwack Food Bank is able to participate in the program fully thanks to Food Banks BC and their purchases worth almost $300,000, which allowed the food bank take delivery of a brand-new, massive, walk-in freezer, two large coolers, and a refrigerated delivery truck.

“What it changes 100 per cent is now the people are coming in and they’re loving the stuff that we are able to give them,” said Armstrong. “We’re giving them apples, we’re giving them oranges, bananas, sandwiches, deli meats, roasts, and turkeys.

“The food comes in, and goes out to our clients. It’s not just tuna anymore. It’s everything.”

The food waste diversion is now operational in more than half of the 170 Save-On-Foods stores across the province, including all three in Chilliwack, where the pilot has been redirecting food in a consistent, safe, and measurable way.

Save-On-Foods spent the past year trying to surpass its company-wide goal to reduce food waste by 50 per cent by 2025.

“We have been composting perishable waste where possible for a number of years, but we knew we could do better,” said Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods, in a release.

The idea is to eventually see the initiative rolled out in all Save-On stores across Western Canada.

“With close to 1.5 million metric tonnes valued at close to $6.4 billion dollars of surplus edible food wasted each year in B.C. and close to 100,000 individuals struggling to put food on the table, perishable food recovery with our partner, Save-On-Foods has been a true game-changer for food banks in B.C.,” said Laura Lansink, executive director of Food Banks BC.

FoodMesh is a Vancouver-based tech firm that is building apps and programs to simplify and digitize the redistribution of surplus food.

“Our work has focused on raising awareness of the global wasted food crisis while developing viable business tech solutions for food businesses targeting waste reduction goals,” said Jessica Regan, CEO of FoodMesh. “We are incredibly excited to be part of such an important initiative.”

So where is it all heading?

“What we’re hoping is that other grocery stores will see what Save-On-Foods is doing, and get on board, so we can get all this food out of the landfills,” Armstrong concluded.


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The food waste diversion program is working great, says Don Armstrong, Chilliwack Food Bank coordinator. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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