When Neil van Heerden expanded the Living Edge program to Langford last year, he never imagined the impact it would have on people’s lives.
Nine months later, the program has exploded. When it got up and running it was helping less than 20, now they’re helping more than 80 to 100 people every week.
“I’m completely surprised at the number of people using the market,” said van Heerden, executive director of Living Edge. “I thought let’s just try this model and see how it goes and it just exploded.”
Living Edge originally started providing groceries, specifically fresh food, and plated hot dinners on a weekly basis in the Quadra Village neighbourhood in 2011.
In November the program expanded to Langford where it runs a weekly market on Goldstream Avenue every Friday afternoon.
As part of the Langford program, residents can come to the neighbourhood market and choose from a wide selection of fresh produce that’s been donated by suppliers.
But it’s not the stereotypical “street” people van Heerden was expecting to see. They see a lot of single and working families, people who are disabled and elderly.
“It’s all about choice and people feeling empowered. If you’re struggling for a month and you can’t afford to get groceries this month, you don’t want to go to regular food bank because there’s a stigma involved with it,” van Heerden said.
“The food is set up like a market. You don’t have to talk to anybody or you can talk to people, and you get to choose what fresh produce you want. For me, it’s all about offering dignity to people because we’ve all been through tough times.”
With the explosion on the West Shore, van Heerden said they’re looking at expanding the service to other areas of Greater Victoria, including downtown Victoria, Esquimalt and the Saanich Peninsula.
But with more sites, they’re also looking for more supplies to come on board and provide produce.
“We have to try and spread the food out to everybody so we’re always looking for suppliers to come on and help us … we’ll collect the food as well,” he said, noting Living Edge provides food to about 4,500 to 5,000 people each month. “Even if we could get two or three more [suppliers] that would be great.”
Other food banks are also looking for donations. With school out for the summer, the Goldstream Food Bank is looking for donations of child-friendly foods such as juice boxes, Kool-Aid, fruit cups, snack as well as breakfast and lunch items, for those who are old enough to stay at home by themselves.
“We’d like to include those in the hampers, especially in the summer,” said Gayle Ireland, president of the food bank. “With the kids home, it’s hard.”
The Living Edge program runs every Friday from noon to 1:30 p.m. at 679 Goldstream Ave. For more information visit livingedge.ngo.