Mother and daughter volunteer team, Jane Rondow and Sophie Priestman, help sort produce for LUSH Valley’s Good Food Box program every week. Volunteers have been essential to the success of this program. Photo supplied

Non-profit feeds Comox Valley households during pandemic

LUSH Valley needs more funding for Food Share

By Terri Perrin, LUSH Valley

In mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, LUSH Valley Food Action Society quickly responded to the needs of people in urgent need of access to healthy food. Some community meal and food programs had been cancelled or temporarily shut down, leaving many vulnerable individuals and families without consistent access to nourishing food. Their initial response was to work with members of the Comox Valley Food Policy Council, restaurants and service organizations to provide grocery store gift cards and food to people in need. Within two weeks, LUSH Valley worked with partners to expand its programming by adding a larger scale Food Share, which consists of Hot Meal and Good Food Box delivery programs.

By April 1, LUSH Valley had secured commercial kitchen space, courtesy of The City of Courtenay, and hired a chef to cook hot meals for distribution through its social service community partners. On April 8, in warehouse space donated by the Comox Valley Regional District, they began a Good Food Box healthy grocery delivery program. As of Aug. 21, a total of 6,382 units of Good Food Boxes have been delivered in a contactless and dignified manner to 665 unique households. More than 16,850 Hot Meals have been provided through 20-plus social service agencies.

These two new programs aligned with the organization’s vision of ‘A region where healthy local food is at the heart of community well-being’; it accelerated their plans to run a local food aggregation and distribution hub; and provided an opportunity to pilot a model that was innovative and successful in closing the loop between local food producers and people who face food insecurity.

Food Share operates in concert with all of LUSH Valley’s other regular programs, including fruit tree harvesting and farm gleaning, community garden programs, healthy foods cooking classes and advocacy.

Today, almost six months into the pandemic, the need to provide people with food support remains crucial. LUSH Valley continues to provide 350 Good Food Boxes and 1,000 hot meals weekly.

It is important to note that Good Food Boxes contain 100 per cent local Vancouver Island food. Everything is purchased from producers in the Comox Valley, except the eggs, which (due to the volume required) are shipped from Duncan. And 15 per cent of the produce is from LUSH Valley’s farm and fruit tree ‘gleaning’.

“Looking back over the past six months, the outpouring of volunteer, financial and in-kind support from our community has been amazing,” says LUSH Valley’s executive director Maurita Prato. “It became clear in the early days of the pandemic that our biggest asset in being able to mobilize quickly and provide quality new programs were the ongoing relationships we had developed with our community partners, many of which are volunteering and contributing financially to the programs. We had initially thought we would run programs until July, but have now extended until at least the end of September. Our recent surveys of food recipients indicated that almost 90 per cent feel they will need these programs ongoing … and they don’t see their financial situations getting better this year. Without additional funding, these programs may not be able to continue to run at current capacity.”

“One of the biggest challenges of the program has been finding and maintaining consistent access to drivers, vehicles, and infrastructure,” said food access manager James McKerricher. “Our community has been extremely generous, but we will lose access to our current warehouse space at the end of September, and are currently looking at other options to continue this program.”

“Our long-term goal is to have a permanent space, along with increased coolers, light food processing equipment and additional delivery vehicles,” added Prato. “I think the pandemic has brought to light the importance of food security and food supply. We know that to have long-term community food security we must include a robust local food economy. In that vision, there is great opportunity in our economic recovery plan to be innovative in this way.

“We have seen our community support us through this first phase of the pandemic. We hope to continue to partner with local businesses, agencies, government and individuals who may be able to provide support through financial contributions or in-kind support this fall and winter. Whether this is in the form of a matching campaign, third-party fundraisers or other means, every contribution will make a difference.”

Funding and ‘gifts in kind’ to support the Good Food Box program have been gratefully received from the Comox Valley Community Foundation, CVRD, School District 71, Food Centers Canada, SPARC BC, Service Canada, Rotary Club of Comox, Urban Systems Foundation, Scotia Bank, First Credit Union, 100+ Women Who Care CV and individual donors.

LUSH Valley has also launched a new weekly Harvest Box program, where people can purchase an order of local produce with net proceeds from sales benefiting the non-profit’s work.

To purchase a Harvest Box for one or more weeks, and for more information, visit LUSHValley.org/events, call 250-331-0152 or email admin@lushvalley.org.

Secure online donations can be made through Canada Helps or by e-transfer or by mail.

Those in need of food support may call the Food Share Helpline Mon./Wed./Fri. from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., or Tues./Thurs. from 1-5 p.m., or apply for a Good Food Box online at LUSHValley.org/programs/food-share.

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