A Cloverdale resident is raising doubts about a Langley-based society that recently canvassed her neighbourhood for food donations, raising an urgent appeal.
The letter – attached to an empty grocery bag – was from Fair Share Food Services Society, outlining its Operation Clean Out Your Pantry campaign, asking for donations of non-perishable foods and canned goods.
“Just leave your bag of groceries by your front door and we will pick it up this Sunday afternoon,” it read.
Instead of looking through her cupboards, Helen Torrance turned on her computer and logged onto the society’s website where she discovered that Fair Share Food Services operates a grocery store for low-income people in Langley.
She was surprised that the letter didn’t mention that the society runs a store, even if it does sell the food at a discount.
“Even though it is apparently a non-profit society, it bothers me that it isn’t clear that they are asking people to donate food which will then be re-sold,” she said, adding she assumed any money could be used to pay salaries or overhead to the society.
It’s the second time the organization has come calling in her West Cloverdale neighbourhood. Torrance and her neighbours received a similar appeal last summer.
“This is not a food bank type initiative,” she concluded, prompting her to contact The Reporter with her concerns.
The latest appeal letter reads in part, “Fair Share Food Services Society is a very effective concept that is currently in operation to help those who are less fortunate by making healthy, nutritional foods available to them.”
The appeal then says while there are “several generous corporate sponsors donating to our cause, the demand exceeds our ability.”
In a recent telephone interview, Fair Share Food Services founder and CEO Kelly Fowler said food collected from the public is not sold.
“The stuff we get from neighbourhoods is used for delivery to homes and for free hampers,” he said, explaining the society delivers food to seniors and shut ins, plus
provides free hampers to referrals from local churches or agencies.
“Also, the people who work with us are volunteers, and they get food that’s free as well,” he said.
The society operates a main branch in Langley and a store in Aldergrove where food is sold at half of what it costs at a regular grocery store, Fowler said. The food that is sold is exclusively from corporate donors, he added.
The donations are sorted in separate areas, ensuring public donations don’t wind up on store shelves.
“Everything we get from corporations are in cases,” he said. “Everything we get from the public are, like, cans.”
Membership is free, but to be eligible, people must prove they earn less than $20,000 a year.
“There’s a lot of people who can’t afford to eat really well,” he said, explaining the low-cost grocery store allows people to buy food that food banks aren’t able to provide.
No wages are paid to volunteers or board members but expenses like fuel are reimbursed and overhead costs such as electricity are paid, he said.
Areas outside of Langley are canvassed for donations because the society offers free delivery to Ladner, Tsawwassen, South Surrey, and Langley, he said. There is also a Fair Share Food Services low cost store in Nanaimo.
Fowler acknowledged that food banks don’t agree with the practice of re-selling donated items, even those donated by corporations.
“We don’t diss the food bank. We are very small compared to the food bank. We’re just doing our part. That’s all.”
Marilynn Herrmann, executive director of the Surrey Food Bank, said organizations such as Fair Share Food Society are “popping up all over the place” and are not affiliated with the Surrey Food Bank.
“Our food is not sold. We are giving it to people who truly do not have any money left,” she said. “That’s who we are helping.”
In Cloverdale, the Surrey Food Bank assists 80 to 100 families every two weeks from the food distribution centre at Zion Lutheran Church.
“We are actively helping the community of Cloverdale,” she said. “We need Cloverdale’s support.”
The Surrey Food Bank is a member of the Food Banks of B.C. and Food Banks Canada Association – 900 members strong, all adhering to a code of ethics. “We do not barter, trade or sell donated food,” she said.
The food bank also doesn’t canvass door-to-door, Herrmann said.
“If someone comes to your door saying they’re from the Surrey Food Bank, it is not the Surrey Food Bank.”
To donate to the Surrey Food Bank or to find out more, visit surreyfoodbank.org, or call 604-581-5443.
This Saturday, June 1, Cloverdale Save-on-Foods and Campbell’s host the Help Hunger Disappear campaign from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Help fill the truck with donations