Food Banks Canada and seven other organizations have been selected by the federal government to redistribute excess food supplies to communities in need.
The Surplus Food Rescue Program was created in May with $50 million in funding as part of Ottawa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted the projects to be all inclusive, from the producers to the processors, transportation, packaging until the end to the food banks,” said Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
Bibeau said timelines will vary depending on the type of food being delivered, but overall the $50 million will be spent within “a couple of months.”
Food Banks will be joined by Nutri-Group, Second Harvest, La Tablee des Chefs and others in redistributing excess supplies of potatoes, walleye, chicken, turkey, eggs, and other commodities. The lead organizations will work in partnership with about 100 other groups in ensuring the food reaches vulnerable communities.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, roughly 12 million kilograms of surplus food will be delivered to food-insecure families as a result of the initiative.
Its success or failure will be judged, according to Bibeau, on its ability to meet its three primary objectives: feed people in need, support farmers or processors with excess supply and avoid food waste.
“We will be looking at these three levels, and we wanted to optimize the money we had, try to find ways to share as much good food as we could,” she said, noting one of the indicators will be the kilograms of food that can be distributed and ensuring at least 10 per cent is delivered to northern communities.
If it is successful, there could be a continuation of the program going forward. Bibeau said the buyback program “aligns very well with our food policy” of making sure all Canadians have access to good, nutritious and diverse food.
The Local Food Infrastructure Fund, which aims to strengthen food systems by encouraging local organizations to work together in delivering healthy food to communities is, “kind of a parallel” to the Surplus Food Rescue Program, said Bibeau.
“It gives an opportunity for producers to work with food banks in a different type of partnership instead of making donations once in a while,” she said.
Not surprisingly, those who were awarded the money to deliver the program reacted with positivity.
“We are very grateful for this investment by the federal government. It leverages the deep supply chain expertise and knowledge the food banking network has, thereby helping those in Canada experiencing food insecurity in the most efficient manner,” said Chris Hatch, CEO, Food Banks Canada in a statement. “We are thankful for the opportunity to build deeper partnerships within the agri-food system as well as helping ensure that highly nutritious, available food feeds people in need and that these resources are stewarded responsibly.”
Food Banks Canada works with affiliated food banks and food agencies to distribute food to those in need across the country, reaching 1.1 million people last year. Nutri-Group buys eggs at cost from farmers and redistributes them in several Canadian provinces, while Second Harvest is a registered charity aiming to rescue surplus food and deliver it to people who need it.
It’s expected Ottawa’s $77.5-million fund designed to help food processors deal with the impacts of COVID-19 will also be rolled out soon.
In early August, the minister responsible, Marie-Claude Bibeau, said the program was “very, very close” to being ready, indicating it would be a matter of weeks before it was ready.
If successful, the funding for processors would help offset costs of purchasing personal protective equipment and installing safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.