New Calgary Co-Op program makes sure fresh food ends up in the food hampers of Calgarians who need it

The Fresh Food Rescue Program is already making a difference in terms of food sustainability and helping the community

By Krista Sylvester | April 27, 2022 |5:00 am

The Calgary Co-Op Fresh Food Rescue Program runs five days a week as a partnership with Calgary Food Bank.

Photo: Submitted

Imagine a food donation usability rate of 98 per cent, which is practically unheard of for food banks. 

Now, that number is not just a lofty dream through Calgary Co-Op’s new Fresh Food Rescue Program in Partnership with the Calgary Food Bank. 

Five days a week, employees pack up and donate fresh produce and fruit, dairy, frozen food, meat products, bakery, and deli products that are nearing their expiry dates.

Then, the Calgary Food Bank puts them into their emergency hampers to be handed out the same day. In just a few months since launching the pilot program, Calgary Co-op has provided more than 260,000 pounds of fresh food, with a quality and usability rate of 98 per cent. 

It’s a win-win situation 

Previously, fresh food waste was composted or recycled, contributing to more than 6,000 tonnes of waste annually. Now, only items that are out of date, overripe or damaged go to the landfill, further reducing in-store food waste.

That is great news for over 16,000 individuals who have received fresh food hampers built and distributed by the Calgary Food Bank, says James McAra, president and CEO of the Calgary Food Bank. 

“When you’re able to share food with even one person, that’s a win,” McAra says, adding this program makes it easier for recipients to feed their families, put snacks in their kids’ lunches, and plan meals.  

“So, having the comfort and the security of knowing that your food is nutritious, that it’s complete, and that you can take it home and do something with it not only right away, but also over the next week… the impact is even bigger.”

The Calgary Food Bank has had to at times throw out up to 28 per cent of donated food in the past. Now, almost all of the food from this program is used. 

The bigger picture 

McAra says there is a bigger picture and that people don’t just wake up with empty pantries — something happened to get to that point. 

“We want to make sure that everybody has those opportunities to thrive. And we want to make sure they know we understand that there are days when things just didn’t go right,” he says. 

“Behind the need for food, oftentimes in crisis, it’s not about the food. It’s about something else, there’s a root in there. There are so many different reasons why somebody would need the food bank.” 

He encourages anyone in need to phone the food bank. 

“If they say, ‘I need some food.’ That’s great. What else can we help you with?’ And that’s what community is about.” 

It takes a village 

McAra applauds Calgary Co-Op and its employees for the initiative, saying he hopes and believes other agencies will follow suit. 

“There’s a lot of work on their part to make this happen,” he adds. 

It’s all about working together, according to CEO of Calgary Co-Op Ken Keelor.

“Teamwork is at the core of everything we do, and this new program is another way our team members can contribute to the community in meaningful ways,” he explains. 

“By safely selecting and transporting items that are fresh but nearing their best before dates, we are helping to provide fresh, quality food items to food bank clients, while also reducing food waste.”

The program is now active in all 24 Calgary Co-op food stores in and around the city, and the grocer is also working with food banks in Airdrie, High River, and Strathmore. Donations of any size can be made online to any of Calgary Co-op’s charity partners.

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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