Instead of going onto the plates of food-insecure families, a shocking amount of edible goods are sent to the landfill to rot.
Vancouver Food Runners is a charity that works with businesses and organizations to divert excess food to those in need, and has recently expanded operations to the North Shore. Through an app, VFR connects the donors with a fleet of volunteer drivers who bring the donations to community non-profits that distribute the food.
After launching in March 2020, VFR has grown from a handful of participants to a network of more than 160 food donors, 125 non-profit partners and 2,500 drivers. In just over three years, the charity has delivered 2.2 million pounds of food that otherwise would have been wasted.
On the North Shore, VFR has partnered with the Real Canadian Superstore, grocery delivery service DashMart and bagel-maker Rosemary Rock Salt as donors. Their donations are taken by a fleet of 100 local drivers who have registered on the app to Family Services of the North Shore, Harvest Project and North Shore Neighbourhood House for distribution.
The program has also received a donation from the West Vancouver Foundation through the Ian and Rosemary Mottershead Fund.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generous donation,” said VFR program manager Chloe Leslie, who will be overseeing the North Shore expansion. The cash will go toward the recruitment of new donors and volunteers, she added.
“We’ll be sending out mail packages and going to meet with businesses on the North Shore … teaching them about our services that we offer, and hopefully onboarding more businesses to participate in our program,” she said.
Superstore manager calls food-diversion program a 'huge win'
The program is designed to be as easy as possible for donors of all sizes to join and participate.
“We really do our best to meet each business where they’re at,” Leslie said. “We’re pretty flexible in terms of frequency of donation, amount of donation, what type of food you’re going to donate.”
Clients range from coffee shops to corporate grocers to hotels.
“Hotels we find have a lot of surplus food, especially going into the summer season if they’re hosting events, weddings, etc. We’re more than happy to collect that type of food as well. It can be prepared.”
There are 63 Superstores in Western Canada participating in food diversion programs, said Hadriee Wan, store manager at the Seymour location. His store started working with VFR last October.
Drivers come by twice a week to collect approximately one grocery cart’s worth of food each pickup. Typically, it includes items nearing the end of their shelf life that can be frozen, such as chicken, dairy products and juices.
“In a big-scale business like us, there’s a lot of stuff going close-dated,” Wan said. “We can’t control production. We can’t control vendors bringing stuff in.”
He calls the partnership with VFR a huge win. “A lot of our colleagues are loving the program because they see how much stuff gets tossed out.”
Tristan Jagger founded VFR in 2019 after identifying that there wasn’t a mechanism locally for businesses to donate surplus food. That led her to licensing the Food Hero app, which was created in Pittsburgh before launching in more than a dozen U.S. cities.
On average, British Columbians throw out one out of every four bags of groceries bought, according to provincial data. And while households account for a large amount of avoidable food waste, even more is scrapped during production and through the supply chain.
It’s estimated that upwards of $31 billion in food is wasted each year across the country. The federal and provincial governments have identified a number of ways for industries, businesses and individuals to take a bite out of the problem.