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Gift of good food gives needy a healthy choice

If you’re still searching for that last-minute gift for the person who “has it all,” you might take note that some others are looking too
Kathleen Unfreed (left) and Jasmine Dixon of the Good Food Box Society are proud of what they can offer.

If you’re still searching for that last-minute gift for the person who “has it all,” you might take note that some who hardly have anything are searching, too — at least for a way to snag quality food — and this can help you.

For the first time ever this holiday season, the Fernwood-driven Good Food Box Society has a solution that fills the needs of that hard-to-find person, and the ones scrambling: the Christmas Hamper Program. Donors can sponsor a family or individual for a year by buying them a regular box of hand-selected, locally grown, organic food. The sponsored family is flush with what would otherwise be hard-to-afford grub, and your hard-to-buy-for loved one will have the honour of a donation given in their name — no wrapping required.

“We’re so excited about the hamper program this season, because of all the people that are being helped when you sponsor a box,” says Sushil Saini, executive director of the society. “It serves the local farmers, the in-need families, all who use the Good Food Box Program and, of course, yourself — or whoever you are giving in the name of.”

For a total of $252 or $525 respectively, the family sponsored will receive either monthly or bi-weekly boxes for all of 2012. Each box contains a variety of goods that adjust based on the Victoria climate, time of year and availability. December’s box, for example, included golden beets, brussel spouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbages, onions, squash, organic Christmas oranges, pomegranates and more. But while its value at most stores would tick in at $34 or more, Saini works with local farmers and suppliers, like the Root Cellar, to drop that price to $18 a box. Most are dropped off at nearby community centres for pick-up, but clients can also have their boxes delivered for just $3 a trip. This month’s boxes even included some easy-to-make holiday recipes (like directions for maple syrup, mustard carrots), tailored to the box goods.

“Getting the quality of food we are looking for takes time, and more than just saving a considerable amount of money, we also do all the running around for you,” says Saini. “So, we drive to the different farms, we look for the best deals, we search out the highest-quality produce and we can even deliver it straight to your doorstep.”

So far, six families have been sponsored for bi-weekly service, and Saini has a goal to make it 10 before the year is out — the deadline to sign up as a sponsor has been extended to Dec. 30. While the hamper program is designed for families in need, Saini is quick to point out that the Good Food Box Program on a whole is meant for everyone — boxes come in a variety of sizes and mixes, from $6 for a Small Box to the $15 Fruit Box, to $18 for the Large Veggie Box. And whether its the price, savings in time or just friendly energy that draws you in, she encourages everyone to sign up for a box or a year’s supply — in fact, the more people use the program, the cheaper prices become for everyone.

“Some of the stories we’ve heard have brought tears to my eyes, like this one mother who said she felt ‘so rich’ the first time she was able to cut up an apple for her son’s snack,” says Saini. “People have such a complex relationship with food, but the more accessible we can make healthy options, the better the benefits for all of us.”

The program has been around in some form — from kitchen table gatherings to a loose organization — for the last 13 years, but was incorporated into its current form about two years ago, and gained society status half a year later. About 375 to 430 individuals and families order at least one Good Food Box each month, and the program works closely with Fernwood’s Best Babies Program and local schools, like George Jay Elementary, since offering healthy nutrition options to children is paramount in the program’s goals.

Jasmine Dixon, an outreach worker with Best Babies, refers her clients to the Good Food Box Society for intake, and uses the program herself.

“I buy the box myself because it makes everything easier, and I have so much faith in Sushil that she will select products that speak for themselves,” says Dixon. M