‘People just donate whatever they don’t sell or whatever they’ve grown too much of,’ organizer says of program helping in need
When Leah Dyck lost her merchandising job during the pandemic, she turned her attention to the community, pairing extra food that would otherwise be wasted with the people who needed it.
She figures she’s now collecting $15,000 worth of food for about 220 local families through her program, Fresh Food Weekly.
But there are challenges.
“We’re losing our space Oct. 1,” said Dyck, whose efforts to find a new spot where she can organize food into individual orders have so far turned up nothing.
She has used a community room at a Barrie public housing building for the last two months, but will have to leave at month’s end.
She’s hoping she’ll soon be able to find a new spot so she can continue collecting food from donors across the region and deliver weekly packages to low-income families.
The goal of her not-yet-registered charity is to improve food security by creating a reliable means to get fresh food to those who need it.
Dyck has increased the number of stores, farms, bakeries and other businesses where she collects food and now sources from around 20 different donors. About 10 volunteers deliver the food throughout the week.
“People just donate whatever they don’t sell or whatever they’ve grown too much of,” she said. “I also go to one of the farmers in the Holland Marsh. … We actually harvest celery, lettuce, potatoes, things like that that are going to be wasted. That’s really great because it’s super, super fresh.”
Earlier this week, she also picked up approximately 500 pounds of carrots, parsnips, onions and beets from a Bradford grocery supplier. A Woodbrige bakery supplied 10 boxes of baked goods, a store filled her car with corn, peppers, tomatoes and kale as did another Holland Marsh farmer.
All the food is fresh but considered surplus, she added.
“It’s perfectly good food,” Dyck said.
Many of the people receiving the food live in public housing and are referred to her by social workers in the community.
Dyck is also working with the local women’s shelter through Rona’s local heroes program to develop a mega Christmas food drive for former shelter clients.
Dyck has been working on Fresh Food Weekly full-time, relying upon her employment insurance to carry her through. Although she will soon be challenged on that front, too, when that income source comes to an end next month.
In addition to sourcing the food, much of her time is also spent on food packaging, taking those bulk donations and organizing them into packages for each of the families.
She also spends around $1,000 monthly on gas to do donation pick-ups and there are website costs.
Dyck hopes to connect with a food security or social-oriented organization to help continue running the program.
“Right now, I’m getting well over $15,000 worth of food every month and it’s only costing me $1,000 to get it,” she said.
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