Skip to content

Coquitlam newcomers rescue grocery store food waste

Federal government makes a video to show how immigrants to Canada are making a positive difference
Food waste
Olesea Oprea, a member of the Immigrant Link Centre Society, packs hampers at the former Vanier school with fresh fruits, vegetables and prepared food and meats from local grocery stores that would otherwise have been wasted because it has reached the best before date or has slight imperfections. She’s one of more than two dozen volunteers, including Reihaneh Mirjani, and Igor Bjelac, who founded the society.

A small group of newcomers who made news last year for an innovative food waste recycling effort are now reaching a national audience.

Thanks to a video made for National Volunteer Week last week, Coquitlam volunteers who started a food bank using surplus food from groceries stores are getting recognized.

The story was reported by the Tri-City News last November.

Igor Bjelac and his fellow started the initiative, which sees volunteers pick up surplus food from grocery stores and make it available to people in need because of low income, vulnerability, refugees in transition, single moms and volunteers who are also giving back.


There is no such thing as “ugly food” in Serbia where Bjelac comes from and the best before date is really the best taste date; it’s still good and should be eaten, he said.

“Imperfect food is still healthy, it’s providing more nutrients,” Bjelac told the Tri-City News at the time.

By repurposing food that otherwise would be thrown away, the small program started by immigrants taking language classes at Vanier Centre has grown to distribute annually 140,000 pounds of food, worth over $750,000.

Some of the stores contributing include Save-On-Foods, Thrifty Foods, Inno Bakery, JJ Bean and Shoppers Drug Mart while places getting the food include Coquitlam’s 3030 Gordon shelter, Suwa’lkh school, Aunt Leah’s Place, and the Union Gospel Mission, and others.

The video produced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is now available on

It is part of a series from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) called‎ Immigration Matters, which emphasizes the impact of immigrants on Canadian communities.