Non-profit grocery offers purchasing power in Vancouver

Quest Food Exchange opens third location

In a city dominated by supermarket giants, a Vancouver non-profit grocery store is growing its niche.

Quest Food Exchange, which aims to help move Vancouverites from food bank reliance to self-sufficiency, is opening its third location Aug. 31.

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Instead of giving out the food, were offering it to them at low costs so they have their purchasing power, said Lauren McGuire-Wood, Quest spokeswoman. Its really about the dignity aspect being restored to them.

Quests new store in the Union Gospel Mission building at 611 East Hasting St. is the third location for the organization since it launched in 2006. The others are on 2020 Dundas St. and 1-13890 104th Ave. in Surrey.

There are about 40 weekly suppliers that bring items to Quest when theres a surplus, rather than throwing products away, McGuire-Wood said. Last year Quest received $3.9 million worth of food. Quest offers items at an approximate 30 per cent markdown, including non-perishables, like vitamins, canned goods, and household items, and milk, bread, fruits and vegetables.

Rona Lewis, 36, who is on limited income and has a nine-year-old son, said services like Quest allow her to balance monthly finances without sacrificing healthy nutrition. Compared to the food bank, the quality is completely different, said Lewis, whos been frequenting Quest for four years. Its about building a basic nutrition and keeping the cupboards full. Its a great advantage.

The store is open to shoppers referred to Quest by social service agencies. Quest annually redistributes 5.77-million pounds of food that would otherwise be thrown away.

According to a recent study by the United Nations, about one-third of food products end up in landfills. Quests redistribution accounts for one per cent of food in British Columbia that would have otherwise gone unused.

The items, which tend to come near or at expiry-date, are put through a quality control inspection test by Quest before placed on shelves. The inspections include Quest employees tasting samples of selective items.

So much food goes to waste, and it could be going to people who actually need it, McGuire-Wood said. Were just mass producing food just because it needs to be perfect in the store.

The stores have 23 paid employees, according to McGuire-Wood who estimated an additional 200 to 300 volunteers come through Quest annually.

David Chu, 22, began volunteering with Quest in June following an arduous and ineffectual job search. I [had] been sending out resumes, and all sorts of stuff, Chu said.

Chu came to Quest through the work-experience program Youth at Work and is moving on to a paid position working at a Vancouver fast-food restaurant. Quests new store, a few blocks away from a previous location, is a bright space in a new building, McGuire-Wood said, and a change from its former cramped and disheartening venue.

Until hunger and food waste management lessens, McGuire-Wood said, Quest plans on expanding. Its next step is to open a new location in Richmond. Ideally, we wouldnt want to run this organization at all, she said.

kimiyasho@gmail.comTwitter: @kimiyasho

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