Reduce, reuse, rescue – Soup Kitchen wants food rescue program for Hay River

Angele Cano/NNSL photo Keith Bradley-McDermott holds up a photo of his loved ones that he regularly carries around to show off and spark stories. He says he frequents the Hay River Soup Kitchen a few times a week and is very thankful for the service.

The Hay River Soup Kitchen would like to see a food recycling program begin in the community.

Since food donor protection legislation passed in the NWT in 2008, programs like Yellowknife Food Rescue have been successful in taking usable food that would otherwise end up in the landfill and repurposing it for the homeless and those in need in the capital city.

Since the Soup Kitchen reopened at its new location in 2011, president Laura Rose has been hoping a similar initiative would take off in Hay River and food bound for the dump could be repurposed for the Soup Kitchen.

However, the building experienced many break-ins last year and higher utility costs, plus the cost of food is pushing the operation into dire straits.

“Once again, we’re nearly flat broke,” said Rose. “Yellowknife saves thousands of pounds of food per month.”

It costs $3,000-$4,000 to run the Soup Kitchen per month – $2,700 without the cost of groceries.

Rose approached Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen to advocate on behalf of a food rescue program and to help get local businesses on board.

“I think the concept is a good idea,” the MLA said. “If it keeps people healthy if they normally would not be otherwise then I think it’s a good thing. I would definitely want to talk to (storeowners), but I can’t presume what their reactions would be. They must get some stuff that could go into the landfill, where it’s either the food rescue or the dump.”

Groenewegen also said it might be helpful for donors if there were an accessible storage unit or food bank.

The Yellowknife program, run by Ruby Trudel, began as a small operation out of her home, shortly after the food donor legislation was passed.

Now, the program has grown into a large food warehouse, and has around 20 volunteers and one paid driver. It was able to process more than 100,000 kg of food last year. Volunteers take things like overripe produce and reprocess it into industrial tubs of banana and potato mash that can be used by the food bank for things like muffins and pasta sauce.

“The needs don’t ever seem to go away, and no one ever gets enough funding, so things haven’t been solved,” said Trudel. “But someone made a comment to me the other day that homeless people in Yellowknife are healthier than they used to be.”

She suggested members of the community consider a couple of questions. “A lot of us feel really helpless about poverty, but it’s really up to the community to ask, ‘Do we care that usable food is going to the landfill? Do we care enough to help out?’”

The three main factors in food being wasted are expired best-before dates, crushed packaging and over-ordered products.

In Yellowknife, there are more resources for food rescue than in Hay River, including a large food warehouse that is one of the program’s major contributors.

For more than 16 years, the Hay River Soup Kitchen has run on a shoestring budget to provide hot meals and food hampers to those in need.

Keith Bradley-McDermott said he frequents the Soup Kitchen regularly. On a Friday afternoon, the 36-year-old is just finishing up lunch and is showing photos of his daughter and a moose-hair tufting he is working on.

“The Soup Kitchen is awesome,” he said. “I really appreciate places like this. This is a really nice establishment and I hope they never close it down.”

by Angele Cano

Northern News Services