Mary Robson, with Friends in Need Food Bank, wants to expand its perishable food program. (THE NEWS/files) Friends in Need Food Bank volunteer Ian MacKay and food bank executive director Mary Robson sort through fresh load of produce just donated. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge food bank looking to expand fresh offerings

Grant sought for perishable food recovery program

Maple Ridge’s Friends in Need Food Bank will be seeing a major influx of fresh food through the expansion of its perishable food recovery program.

The program, established in 2017, sees major food stores provide fresh groceries, everything from meat, dairy and produce, to the food bank in downtown Maple Ridge where it’s then distributed in monthly hampers that go out to about 700 households.

Currently, only three stores, Meridian Farm Market, Thrifty Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart, provide the fresh perishable food.

But if the food bank can find warehouse space to expand its operations and perishable food recovery hub, Save-On-Foods would join in the program.

Adding the four Save-On-Foods stores in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows would see the number of large boxes or totes that are now collected every day full of fresh food, increase from 15 to more than 115. A new refrigerated truck will help in the distribution system.

Food bank executive-director Mary Robson said that Food Banks BC set out a system in 2017 that details how to set up a system where grocery stores put their surplus food into tote boxes where it’s collected daily and then distributed through the food bank.

“We started the program back in 2017 … and it has been working very well but to expand and do more, bring on more of the grocery stores, I need another facility,” Robson said.

She said that national grocers have been working with Food Banks Canada to set out a system to ensure that stores have no liability for any donated food.

Friends in Need Food Bank also supplies agencies such as Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries and Ridge Meadows Seniors Society and also sends groceries to the temporary modular homes on Royal Crescent where there’s only one hot meal served a day.

“We’re actually becoming a bit of a hub in the Fraser north area with the food banks. We’re becoming more of a distribution hub,” Robson said.

The Friends in Need Food Bank have been invited to apply to Food Banks Canada for a grant to set up the warehouse operation. But if the food bank doesn’t get the grant, which will be announced this spring, it will have to fundraise instead to allow the expansion to proceed.

“This is really the way of the future,” Robson said.

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