Feeling the pinch: Burnaby food charity impacted by grocery prices, supply
“The prices are dramatically increasing making it very hard for… individuals in Burnaby specifically to make ends meet.
Going to the grocery store, especially right now, can be a stressful task. With higher food prices, it comes as no surprise that many shoppers are being more cautious about what they put into their carts and what they may have to leave out.
That pressure is being intensified for local food organizations, like Refood, working to increase food accessibility in the city.
Refood is a “food rescue charity” that takes surplus food from grocery stores to communities that are food insecure or have trouble accessing fresh food and vegetables, and other grocery items. Food that is “rescued” by the organization include items headed to the landfill for their appearance (like bruised fruits and veggies), ingredients with improper packaging, or food nearing an expiry date.
“It reduces the barriers… [which] is obviously a good thing and that’s why we are working on that component,” Refood founder, Danison Buan told Burnaby Beacon.
Refood works with a multitude of Burnaby organizations including the Burnaby South and North Neighbourhood houses, the Saturday food hub at Gordon Presbyterian Church in Edmonds, House of Omeed, Norland Place Supportive Housing, Salvation Army in Metrotown, and Charleford House.
They also help restock the Burnaby community fridge on Imperial St, which often is low on supplies.
Because Refood depends on surplus food from grocery stores, there have been some recent difficulties due to the increasing cost of food and how grocery stores manage their inventory.
In a previous interview with the Beacon, Andrea Creamer with Burnaby Primary Network (the organization that also runs the community fridge program), noted that donations coming in—specifically to the fridge at 4750 Imperial St—have been impacted by several factors.
“Throughout the pandemic, the cost of things, the global supply and shipment has impacted [donations] and then the grocery stores have gotten smarter about what they’re ordering. So the amount that is being diverted from landfills, that organizations were previously having access to, has lessened a lot,” she said.
Buan agreed, explaining that there are “currently a lot of factors” that are impacting how organizations like Refood can access surplus food. “Obviously, supply chain is one of the biggest (factors) and inflation as well,” he said.
Currently, the hardest food item to adequately supply to the community is meat, Buan said, adding that it was already in high demand when it was easier to access.
The combination of higher prices and demand means that meat is also highly sought after at grocery stores, leaving little surplus for groups like Refood.
“Obviously, the stores are being careful on what they can and cannot order as well. So all those variables are why this is starting to happen as a shortage,” he said.
And those variables also make things even tougher for individuals who are already having a hard time making ends meet.
“For example, in one of our food hubs, we help a lot of mothers that were previously abused,” explained Buan. “So they have limited income, obviously restricts their ability to be able to make ends meet. So they’re having to choose like, ‘Can I pay my rent? Or do I get my weekly groceries?’”
And Buan adds that the pinch is being felt by nearly everyone from seniors to middle-aged folks working nine-to-five jobs.
“The prices are dramatically increasing making it very hard for… individuals in Burnaby specifically to make ends meet. Specifically elderly people right now—it’s very hard with the increase of prices, as you know, housing prices, which is making it very difficult for individuals to make ends meet choosing between their grocery bills and their rent and vice versa,” he reiterated.
Still, Refood is trying its best to ensure that the diverse needs of communities in Burnaby are met, especially when it comes to easy-access food via the Imperial fridge.
Just a few weeks ago, when the fridge was completely empty, Refood was able to stock it up with fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy items, bread and more.
For community members who are able to donate to the community fridges, “grab-and-go” items, like yogurt, granola, bars, apples are good staples to bring. Eggs, milk, and other fresh veggies and fruits are also popular and always in demand. Due to health regulations, home-cooked meals and leftovers are not permitted, but meals prepared in a commercial kitchen with labelled ingredients on the containers can be donated. Aside from the Imperial Street location, there are also fridges set up at SFU and a community fridge located at Cariboo Road Christian Fellowship, which is open during church hours.
You can learn more about Burnaby’s community fridges and how to donate here. To learn more about volunteering with Refood or donating, click here.