News

Food distribution service responds to critics

Kelly Fowler, founder of the Fair Share Food Service Society, at the Langley City outlet.  - Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times
Kelly Fowler, founder of the Fair Share Food Service Society, at the Langley City outlet.
— image credit: Dan FERGUSON/Langley Times

Fair Share Food Services Society founder Kelly Fowler says he can’t understand the controversy over their door-to-door food-collecting campaign.

“None of us can figure out why,” Fowler told The Times.

“I do not know what the issue is.”

Fair Share operates two low-cost storefront grocery outlets for low-income people in Langley City at 5765 203A St. and in Aldergrove at 27117 Fraser Hwy.

Most of the complaints have come from food banks and are about Operation Clean Out Your Pantry, a Fair Share initiative that drops off paper bags with a note requesting donations of non-perishable foods and canned goods.

“Just leave your bag of groceries by your front door and we will pick it up  … ” the note attached to the bag says.

There has been negative reaction to the campaign in Surrey, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford.

In 2012, when Fowler was operating as the Fraser Valley Grocery Resource Society and just starting out, he ran afoul of the Abbotsford Community Services’ (ACS) Food Bank.

The food bank complained the grocery bag note was misleading because Fair Share was saying “we support the local food banks” and that would make people think ACS was operating the program.

At the time, Fowler told the Abbotsford News the bag campaign would be halted in Abbotsford.

“I don’t like stepping on anyone’s toes,” Fowler said.

This year, the bag campaign attracted flak in Maple Ridge and Surrey.

In May, Youth Unlimited, a group that operates an in-school breakfast program in Maple Ridge, complained it was misleading of Fair Share to say it supported Youth Unlimited.

Dennis Hemminger, the area director of Youth Unlimited, said his organization is not associated with Fair Share.

“They shouldn’t be soliciting outside their area,” Hemminger said.

Fowler told the Maple Ridge News it was a mistake that has been dealt with.

“We’ve got it all straightened out,” Fowler said.

In March, when Fair Share donation bags appeared in a Cloverdale neighbourhood, it prompted criticism by Marilynn Herrmann, executive director of the Surrey Food Bank.

Herrmann told the Cloverdale Reporter newspaper that organizations like Fair Share are “popping up all over the place” and are not affiliated with the food bank.

“We do not barter, trade or sell donated food,” Herrmann said, adding the food bank also doesn’t canvass door-to-door.

Fowler said Fair Share is soliciting donations outside Langley because it delivers food outside Langley, as far away as Tsawwassen.

He estimates Fair Share has more than 800 clients, people who don’t qualify for food bank assistance even though they make less than $20,000 a year.

“They’re [the food banks] saying ‘we can’t service those people, and you ain’t either’,” Fowler sad.

The donated food is distributed to the homeless, shut-ins and Fair Share volunteers, Fowler said.

“Very little” of it is sold in the two Langley grocery stores, which rely on corporate donations for most of the products they sell, Fowler said.

He estimated the bag campaign accounts for about 30 per cent of the food donated to Fair Share.

The stores sell food “at or greater than 50 per cent less than the price offered by generic grocery stores” according to the Fair Share website.

Fair Share is not a registered charity, but Fowler said he has filed the necessary paperwork and hopes to be registered in about six months.

Fowler said no wages are paid to volunteers or society directors like himself, but they do get reimbursed for expenses.

“I’m a retired truck driver. I have a pension,” Fowler said.

Fair Share provided The Times with a list of agencies it assists, including Triangle Community Resources (a Langley-based agency that provides employment services under government contract for people with “multiple barriers”), the SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) Food bank in Aldergrove, Betty Gilbert Elementary School, Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, Mission Food Bank and Christian life Assembly Recovery Church.

Fowler said he has offered donated food to the Langley food bank, which operates across the alley from the Fair Share Langley City location, but he has been turned down “every time.”

At press time, the Langley Food Bank had not responded to a Times request for comment.

Fowler said Fair Share plans to move its Langley City operation at 203A Street to premises on Douglas Crescent later this year.

“We’re here to stay,” Fowler said.

Before establishing Fair Share, Fowler was co-founder of the Oasis Outreach Society in Chilliwack, which recently opened a store in Langley on 203 Street and Douglas Crescent that re-sells donated food items at reduced prices to low-income people.

Fowler is no longer associated with Oasis.

- with files from Jennifer Lang,  Monisha Martins and Vikki Hopes.

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