MEMORY LANE: Harvest Project helps families thrive

Harvest Project exists to help individuals and families overcome difficult life circumstances so that they can participate more fully within the North Shore community.

The organization has accomplished this in many different ways for almost 30 years. This column is about the most basic and necessary help that Harvest Project provides: providing food to those who need it.

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Four years ago, the folks at Harvest Project went looking for a food management expert. They wanted to improve their distribution system so they could provide food more efficiently and effectively. They found local restaurateur Philippe Ségur.

The Ségur brothers, Michel and Philippe, are well known on the North Shore. They gave us restaurants Bistro Chez Michel in North Vancouver, operating no more, sadly, and Chez Michel, still operating, thankfully, in West Vancouver.

Philippe took on the challenge. Today, the volume of food that moves from the community through the Harvest Project and back into the community has improved in quality, quantity and selection. Food is packaged to be convenient to the needs of core clients. Frozen food is available now. Food waste is reduced.

“We take those ‘ugly vegetables’ and those bruised tomatoes, for example,” says Philippe, “and we make them into good, nutritious food.”

It’s all about participating in the circular economy in order to fulfil the Harvest Project’s purpose: to offer a hand up rather than a hand out. 

To achieve this, Harvest Project is building collaborative partnerships with grocery stores, businesses and schools, with community service organizations like the Table Matters Food Network and the North Shore Women’s Centre, with health-care institutions like the HOpe Centre.

Ultimately, the Harvest Project vision includes a community-based food hub serving the North Shore, a central depot where food is received, prepared and processed, and returned to the community.

“Like other community organizations, we rely on our volunteers to help us do what we do,” says Philippe. “We have 150 volunteers coming every week, all North Shore residents. Over 75 per cent of the volunteer crew is over 60 and some are over 80.

“I am amazed by their resilience. Some have told me they were declining mentally, physically and emotionally because they felt disconnected from their community. Then, they came to volunteer with us. Pretty fast they saw and felt the difference it made to their well-being.”

 Volunteer Mario Lavoie is building donation boxes for the Harvest Project. He constructs them at Silver Harbour Seniors’ Centre using materials donated by Dick’s Lumber and Standard Building Supplies. The boxes, located in grocery stores and other businesses across the North Shore, will be the Project’s repositories for donations of food, clothing, gift cards and personal care items.

“Mario, 76 years young as he says, is a perfect example of what staying engaged does for individuals after retirement. We are very blessed to have had Mario step into this community project. He has made an enormous difference in his community and many families in need will benefit for a long time to come,” says Philippe.

Philippe did not have to search for Mario. Six months ago, he walked into Harvest Project in North Vancouver.

“I was looking for something to do and a friend told me about Harvest Project, so I went over there one day,” recalls Mario. 

Born and raised on a farm in Quebec, with eight brothers and eight sisters, Mario has lived and worked in Florida, Jamaica and twice in British Columbia, returning six years ago to live permanently on the North Shore.

Mario worked in logging camps, drove semi-trailers and operated heavy equipment, and was a business owner. Primarily, however, Mario is a contractor and carpenter who loves to cook. So, not only is he a francophone like Philippe, Mario is a perfect fit for Harvest Project’s plan to get good food to the people who need it.

Once the donation boxes are completed, would Mario consider helping out in the Harvest Project kitchen? “Maybe,” he says, “when I get a little older.”

Harvest Project is at 1073 Roosevelt Cres. in North Vancouver. To learn more about the organization, visit harvestproject.org or join Mario Lavoie and Philippe Ségur and their Harvest Project colleagues for a by-donation barbecue at John Lawson Park in West Vancouver on Sunday, Sept. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at lander1@shaw.ca.

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