Bad news for Good Food

UPDATE 5:06 p.m.

Juris Vinters, chairperson of the Food Action Society of the North Okanagan, said ending the Good Food Box program was a difficult decision.

“It is with heavy hearts that the board made the difficult decision to close the Good Food Box program. We know the positive impact it has made over the years in the lives of people who need help to access nutritious, healthy foods. This decision was not made lightly,” said Vinters.

“Enrolment in the program has been declining over the past few years, which has been a growing concern to our organization. It’s an indication that the program is not meeting the needs of our community, despite the best efforts of our staff, a group of very dedicated volunteers and community sponsors. Over the past year, the board has been evaluating the program and attempting to find ways to keep it running.”

The Good Food Box is not eligible for grants as it is a fee-for-service model and is considered a business with a social enterprise approach.

“More than one grant application has been refused over the years for this reason. It simply does not meet government or charitable foundation criteria,” said Vinters. “Community members have definitely provided donations in the form of sponsored boxes for people who cannot afford the purchase price and do receive a charitable receipt, but this is a for a small number of the boxes.”

Vinter said the model depends on a larger group of paying customers to purchase enough boxes to break even for the related costs and “unfortunately, the GFB has been losing paying customers for a number of years and the financial model no longer works.”

The declining customer base, increased food costs and an increase in other for-profit food delivery programs have been difficult to overcome.

Vinters said the board has had ongoing discussions with the co-ordinator about the deficit and other challenges with keeping the program afloat.

“If the board did not make this decision, it would put the society and its other food programs at risk. This decision was not made lightly and it is heartbreaking for everyone involved,” she said.

There is some bad news for the Good Food Box Program.

The Food Action Society of North Okanagan has announced the program is being shut down, but that does not necessarily mean it will end.

Ironically, the announcement comes at the beginning of March, which is also Nutrition Month in B.C.

Longtime Good Food Box volunteer Christine Fraser said efforts are being made to find another society willing to take on the program that provides fresh fruit and vegetables to some 400 people at wholesale prices every month.

And that is good news for Marilyn Hubley who relies on the food box to make ends meet.

At 72, Hubley is long retired and getting the box full of fruit and veggies for $10-15 less than she would pay at the grocery store is a godsend.

Her daughter, who is on disability, also relies on the program to make ends meet.

Hubley has been participating in the program since it started 18 years ago.

“It's a real help,” she said, adding she would not be able to have such a wide variety of fresh produce without the program.

It also means she does not have to go to the local grocery store and haul pounds of food back to her home.

The most recent food box she received weighed more than 15 pounds and included potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, apples, oranges and several other items.

“We are working hard to get it up and running if not for next month then the month after,” said Fraser who has volunteered with the program for more than seven years.

“We are trying to keep it going so it does not have such a big impact on the people who rely on it.”

Fraser said she was informed Tuesday the program was officially terminated as of March 5 because it was not sustainable.

Fraser said the program has never been self sustaining and has always received grant funding and community support.

“There are over 400 boxes a month that cover the whole region,” said Fraser. “It's a huge program.”

Fraser said the program joined the Food Action Society because it needed a charity to partner with to allow for tax receipts.

So now, proponents of the program are looking for another society they can work with.

A meeting is planned for Thursday evening to discuss the matter.

Castanet has left a message with the Food Action Society for comment.

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