A longtime North Okanagan food distribution program is being shelved.
The Good Food Box, operated by the Food Action Society of North Okanagan, is a fruit-and-vegetable bulk-buying program that provides individuals with a monthly box of produce at a lower cost than purchasing it at a local chain grocery store.
The society’s board decided Monday to terminate one of its longest running programs due to a “drastic decline in orders, increasing food costs, and the availability of for-profit food box services that have made the Good Food Box program unsustainable for our small organization.”
“It is with heavy hearts that the board made the difficult decision to close the Good Food Box program. We know the positive impact it has made over the years in the lives of people who need help to access nutritious, healthy foods. This decision was not made lightly,” said Juris Vinters, chairperson of the Food Action Society board.
“Enrolment in the program has been declining over the past few years, which has been a growing concern to our organization. It’s an indication that the program is not meeting the needs of our community, despite the best efforts of our staff, a group of very dedicated volunteers, and community sponsors.”
Vinters said the board has been evaluating the program over the past year and attempting to find ways to keep it running.
“After much deliberation, the volunteer board of the Food Action Society made the decision to close down the program with the intention of assessing community needs and seeking ways to create more effective and sustainable food distribution and access programs in the future,” said Vinters.
“We are making every effort to minimize impacts on those receiving the Good Food Box.”
The board will not run a Good Food Box this month, and have a list of those who have pre-ordered boxes. They will issue refunds on the regularly scheduled distribution day, March 15, between 2 and 6 p.m. at the All Saints Anglican Church.
Refunds will be given if a receipt for the Good Food Box is brought to that location.
“If individuals don’t have their receipt, we will check our lists to confirm names and orders,” said Vinters. “For those who can’t pick up a refund on March 15, please contact us to make arrangements for a later date.”
“If individuals receive a sponsored box, the refund will be returned to the sponsor rather than the person who receives the box. We will be in contact with sponsors in the next few days.”
The program was founded in 2000 by Vernon women Diane Fleming and community nutritionist at the time, Donna Antonishak, as a way to help low-income families, single parents and seniors get a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables into their diet at a low cost.
A box cost $10 when it opened in 2000. It’s now at $17.
“I’m shocked,” said Fleming of the program’s termination. (Fleming, according to one volunteer, was also terminated as the program coordinator.)
“There are so many people in our community where food security is a huge issue. This has helped people have enough fruit and vegetables, or even have fruit and vegetables, in their diet.”
Marilyn Hubley has been a Good Food Box subscriber since Day 1, and has also signed up her daughter on disability as well as her landlord.
“I was really disappointed with the decision,” said Hubley. “This will really put a strain on my budget, and my daughter’s, too.”
Hubley said she went to a local grocery store and priced out, to the best of her ability, the cost of what was in her food box at the store, and figured there was a minimum of $26 in savings.
For Dolores Morneau and her husband, the box offered the Vernon couple a variety of fruit and vegetables “they would never dream of buying,” but it also provided them with the company of the volunteer driver.
“If we weren’t going to be home, we could phone our driver and she’d come by later,” said Morneau. “It was like a little family.”
The low cost of the Good Food Box is made possible because of group buying. By pooling their money, Good Food Box participants can buy food wholesale and get better prices. Volunteer labour for sorting and packing keeps the prices down.
The program has successfully served Vernon, Westside, Armstrong, Falkland, Lumby, and Cherryville participants. Approximately 400 Good Food Boxes are distributed every month though 500/month are needed for the program to be self-sustaining, according to longtime program volunteer Christine Fraser.
“The program since inception has always been subsidized,” she said. “The program needs approximately $500 a month in financial support. It’s run by volunteers, mostly seniors. One part-time paid position to coordinate the program is a minimal wage.”
Fraser said “it is very irresponsible of the Food Action Society board and executive director (Samara Sonmor) to abandon a program so abruptly that provides such a huge benefit to people in our region without giving the original founders of the GFB Vernon an opportunity to find another organization to help support the program.”
A lot of people depend on this program and I think it’s fundamentally wrong to terminate someone who started this grass roots program 18 years ago, long before the Food Action Society administered the program,” said Fraser.
FASNO began administering the Good Food Box program in 2007.
Vinters said the board welcomes the input of community members “as we work to create a sustainable program that meets the needs of our community.”
“We welcome feedback about the Good Food Box program from participating volunteers, Food Action members, sponsors, agencies, and regular subscribers of the Good Food Box,” said Vinters.
Comments about experiences with the program can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the society’s website, www.foodaction.ca.