Community members angered by disheartening conduct
Allegations that a few individuals are greedily helping themselves to more than their share of produce at a local food bank, then offering it up to a downtown business for resale have community members peeved.
The allegations were laid by Victoria residents who use the 910 Club, a daily food bank run out of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, after months of noticing that two to three individuals would frequently fill their backpacks with substantially more donated food than most users.
In an act of investigation this past week, some members decided to follow the people in question and discovered the individuals were taking it straight to a downtown trading company, who then put the food up for resale.
“When you see people taking way more than they can handle, you think, wow, they must be feeding elephants at home or something,” says Lee Gustafson, a Victoria resident who uses the services and was associated with the investigation. “Of course, there’s no way we can know if these people are selling the food to this business, or simply trading it for something else, but there’s something wrong going on here.”
Gustafson and the others immediately alerted the food bank, as well as Vancouver Island Health Authority food inspectors about what they found. Because the act is not criminal — no food was stolen — police have no involvement in the case. VIHA inspectors were sent to the business immediately after the complaint, though owners denied the allegations and inspectors found all produce items in the store were “fit for human consumption.”
“Because we don’t moderate the source when it comes to produce, VIHA has no grounds on which to pursue this further, but it is disheartening from a moral and ethical standpoint,” says VIHA spokesperson Shannon Marshall. “It’s disturbing to think a business could partake in this.”
Sheila Connelly, 910 Club co-ordinator and board president, says the food bank has had concerns about the individuals for some time, and does monitor how much people take.
“It sounds like last week was a breaking point when these members were not monitored as closely, and we are taking the allegations very seriously,” says Connelly. “We’re really talking about a small amount of food here, though … I can see why people who need these services might do something like this, but I can’t understand why a business would.”
Monday contacted the business in question, but a representative told Monday that no one in the store spoke English, and so would not be able to comment.
The 910 Club is an entirely free food bank that sees between 150 and 250 people each weekday. In its 29 years, Connelly says she’s not heard of a situation like this before. While managers considered posting signs in both English and other languages that food cannot be resold, they decided instead to confront the individuals directly.
“The people who use these services already face so much resistance in their lives, and we don’t want to be one more place telling them what they can’t do,” says Connelly. “These people facing the allegations are still our clients too, and we want to be respectful.”
Connelly has concerns that community members who hear about these actions — including major daily donor Thrifty’s Foods — will retract donations, or cast all users in a poor light.
“It’s important people know that those who use our services are not only street people, but low-income community members who just take enough vegetables to make soup at home each day,” says Connelly. “These are some of the nicest and most generous people you will ever meet. They take care of each other . . . and they face so many injustices each day — they don’t need another.”
Still, users like Gustafson hope that everything possible can be done to curb the problem.
“I think the main point is to let the business and the people know that we are watching them, and this is not OK,” he says, adding that he will no longer shop at the business in question. “Redistributing donations for sale is just a scummy thing to do, and it has the potential for hurting a lot of people.” M