Second Harvest is one of several organizations that have received federal funding to direct surplus food to hungry citizens
By Jackie Clark
The federal government recently revealed the details of the $50 million Surplus Food Rescue Program which is funding several organizations across Canada in their mission of redistributing perishable surplus food to Canadians who need it most.
Second Harvest and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) are two such organizations.
“Second Harvest and the CPMA have been approved for $22 million to purchase and redistribute perishable food to communities across Canada, 10 per cent or more of which will be directed to northern communities,” said an Aug. 13 joint press release from both groups.
“We’ve been doing this for a long, long time. Surplus food from across the supply chain, from farm to restaurant, we pick up that food” and distribute to charities and non-profits, Lori Nikkel, the CEO of Second Harvest, told Farms.com. The organization is the largest food rescue group in Canada. “Across Canada we wanted to make sure that surplus food was getting to charities and non-profits.”
Second Harvest runs FoodRescue.ca, an online platform that helps network between organizations and companies with surplus food, and the charities and non-profits looking for donations, and has been addressing the issue of surplus food since long before COVID-19.
There is a surplus of food in the country. The challenge is getting that food where it needs to be. “58 per cent of all food produced for Canadians is lost or wasted,” said Nikkel.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began having an impact on Canada, Second Harvest organized a national task force with representatives from the food industry, commodities, and national and regional charities, and Indigenous people.
The task force wanted to make “an effort to really match where the spikes were in surplus food with where the challenges are for charities accessing food,” explained Nikkel. Society mostly focuses on food banks “but there are 60,000 charities and non-profits that use food, and because nobody knows about them all, they always get overlooked.”
In the initial weeks of the pandemic “the surpluses were changing,” Nikkel said. Food industry experts were observing spikes in certain surplus food that you wouldn’t see typically, because of food service closures. This included potatoes, typically used for french fries, seafood, and specialty meats like bison.
Second Harvest partnered with CPMA and “worked on a pretty comprehensive proposal for the federal government so we could move this food to FoodRescue.ca,” Nikkel explained. Their focus was “making sure (surplus food) got that last mile, and was going to places that were always overlooked.”
This includes some focus on remote, rural, northern and Indigenous communities.
The funding is meant to cover purchasing the food, but also further processing, storage and distribution. “We have to make sure it’s in a way that charities and non-profits can accept it,” Nikkel said. This may include processing into smaller quantities, or freezing for long-term storage and slow release. The goal is to provide diverse options of appropriate servings of food so it can be utilized well by people who access the charities or non-profits.
Food has already started moving from this program, including eggs, salmon, chicken, turkey, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, bison, veal, trout, pollock, flounder, shrimp and prawns.
“We focus on produce, protein and dairy because those are the foods that are hardest to access if you’re low income,” Nikkel explained. This food is “in addition to what we already do … we’re still getting the same surplus food from across the supply chain that we typically get.”
This project will have a lasting impact because “we’re building up third-party logistics to make sure that that food gets to the last mile,” she added. “That’s great because it will actually give us a legacy system so that we can continue to do that after the surplus funding is gone.”
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