Calgary neighbors set up mini-depots selling boxes of vegetables at wholesale prices

Once a month, Susan Gwynn turns her little bungalow in northeast Calgary into a mini grocery store.

Boxes of apples, potatoes and even mangoes are stacked in his garage, and a small group of neighbors from Martindale drop by for their orders.

Because this is a fixed box and a bulk order, Gwynn and other customers claim that the prices for fresh produce are about half of what large chain stores charge without compromising on the quality.

“I buy a box for my family and a couple more boxes for other members of the community who just can’t afford it, to have fresh produce in their lives,” Gwynn said.

“It makes them feel like they remember.”

Susan Gwynn is a volunteer and drop-off coordinator for the Good Food Box program in Calgary. (SRC)

Gwynn is not the only one in this case. She is a volunteer and her mini-grocery store is run by Community Kitchens, which now has around 130 depots like this one across town.

The Good Food Box program offers anyone on a budget the opportunity to purchase a meal for less. It was pointed out by several as a solid option for families during CBC Calgary’s focus on the rising cost of food.

It offers basic foods and can often be delivered for a small fee. The only downside, said community members participating via a CBC text messaging app, is that you can’t choose what goes in the box and it could be too much food for a couple or an individual.

“Seeing smiles … changes everything”

Gwynn’s 20-year-old daughter wanted to get involved as well.

“I think it’s important for families to have lots of fresh vegetables and fruit,” Hannah Gwynn said.

“Seeing the smiles and knowing that the fridges are full and when they go to school, they are not hungry, that changes everything.”

Benton Deschamps is a volunteer in the Good Food Box program. (SRC)

Hannah’s boyfriend, Benton Deschamps, says volunteering makes her feel good.

“The stories you hear from people who have lived in poverty inspire me to do more, to volunteer and to help as much as I can,” said the 20-year-old, adding that there is also a practical side of the program for him.

“It’s really nice to think of all the recipes you can make with what’s in the box. It just kindles the creative juices when you look at it.”

As a client of the program, Chelsea Haines is delighted that the Gwynn family wants to help the community.

“I love getting a lot of fresh produce at the same time, and it really encourages my family to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Haines said.

“When you have all of this product at once, you are encouraged to eat it. It is there and it will go wrong if you don’t. “

Chelsea Haines has been a client of the Good Food Box program since September of last year. (SRC)

Conversations about what to do with, say, five pounds of potatoes are now the norm in her kitchen.

The Good Food Box program offers small, medium, and large boxes, at $ 25, $ 30, and $ 35, respectively. These boxes contain between 20 and 45 pounds of fresh produce, depending on the size.

The boxes contain staples like potatoes, carrots, and onions, as well as seasonal offerings like pomegranates and avocados.

Sundae Nordin is the CEO of Calgary’s Community Kitchen Program, which runs the Good Food Box, among other programs. (Zoom)

Sundae Nordin, head of Calgary’s Community Kitchen Program, which runs the Good Food Box program, says there’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes.

“We average about 2,600 community kitchen volunteers per year,” Nordin told CBC News in an interview.

But volunteers are only one piece of the food box puzzle.

“From the seller to the buyer, to the storekeepers, to the volunteers who build them, to the drivers who pick up and deliver, to the volunteers who distribute them, to the customers to just enjoy and have good food on their tables that is affordable.”

17,000 boxes delivered last year

The Good Food Box program has been around for about 16 years, and although the program operates weekly, individual depots may offer boxes less frequently.

Community Kitchen collects pre-orders from depots and sources the best prices from around seven or eight suppliers. The depots then collect and distribute the boxes to customers. Over 1,000 boxes rolled out in a week at the end of last month, and approximately 17,000 boxes hit Calgary family tables in 2020.

There is no income threshold for those interested in ordering a box.

Nordin says it helps many families who are struggling to make ends meet.

“Poverty is very different, especially in the last three or four years. It brings a lot of anxiety and fear, for a parent who cannot feed their children. If the children don’t eat, the parents don’t eat, very probably. How do you make the right decisions when you’re not eating? “

Nordin says one in 10 Alberta families go hungry.

“I think the pandemic has really brought food insecurity to the surface,” she said.

Meanwhile, back at Gwynn’s mini grocery store, she says it’s important that people have access to the affordable food they want, not just a free basket that might not have what they need. .

“Dignity is one of those things that people don’t have access to unless they have the money to buy dignity. It’s not fair. We have to give people dignity as an inherent right. “she said.

“The cost of poverty is driving our economy into the ground. Fix it and you won’t have that expense. The ship straightens up on its own.

“There is no shame in living with food insecurity. If you are food insecure, if, like so many other Calgarians, you are struggling, that’s okay. Talk to someone. Ask someone for help. Its good. There are tons of people ready to help and get you through this. “

CBC Calgary: The High Cost of Food

Enter your cell phone number to help CBC Calgary understand the shortcomings of Calgary’s food system, share money-saving tips, and help document how high food costs are changing the way we eat and shop. Read more of the series here.

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About Timothy Cheatham

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