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‘Nobody should go hungry': Port Coquitlam group feeds families, stops food from going to waste

People’s Pantry is feeding dozens of Tri-City families but needs a new home and volunteers to keep it going
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Pam Eberl and Kristie de Jong administer the People's Pantry that distributes fresh produce and perishables like milk, eggs, juice and meat that have been deemed unsellable by grocery stores.

Dozens of Tri-City single moms and seniors are getting nutritious meals thanks to a new Port Coquitlam non-profit that is making sure vulnerable families are getting a healthy dose of produce, dairy and meat.

The People’s Pantry Food Recovery Society is part of a new trend among food banks that put together hampers collected from grocery stores and other providers, most of it perishable and nearing its best-before date.

“Our mandate is to make sure nobody is going hungry and with the amount of food that’s out there no-one should be going hungry,” says Pam Eberl, People's Pantry executive director.

With food and housing costs rising, many families are finding it difficult to access food and while traditional food banks are filling a gap, there’s a growing recognition that more people could be fed if food was recovered from grocery stores that might otherwise go to waste.

A Tri-Cities food security report now circulating among Port Coquitlam councillors states food wastage is a big problem. Collecting it and distributing it to people who need it could make a huge difference to local families.

People’s Pantry is a relative newcomer to the food bank scene, having started just last year. It feeds about 60 families, headed by seniors and single parents, and last year saved thousands of pounds of food from going to waste.

It's the brainchild of Kristie de Jong, a director with the society and a clinical counsellor, who came up with the idea when she was struggling to provide for her own kids.

At the time, her then-husband was recovering from an overdose at a PoCo recovery home, and she was given bags of Cobbs Bread to feed her kids.

Not all of it could be used by the family of five, so it was bagged up and single moms she knew via Facebook were invited to pick it up from the trunk of her car.

“I knew a lot of single moms because I was one,” de Jong explains as the society grew from her efforts to find food for her family and through her connections, including Port Coquitlam Coun. Glen Pollock, who became a director of the society.

"I saw that food was being turfed and dumped and knowing that single moms can’t rely on child support and seniors are dumpster diving felt there should be a way to help."

Now, the People’s Pantry is a going concern and a part of many people’s lives.

Still there are challenges, the operation started during COVID-19 and is running on a shoe-string budget — volunteers who collect the food pay for gas out of their own pocket.

And more volunteers are needed to create a second shift that would help more families and the organization has to move out of Elk’s Hall by Dec. 31 for a city project.

“We are looking for a new home,” said Eberl, looking around at the donated fridges and freezers used to store food, boxes of donated goods and a table full of fresh produce donated by gardeners working plots at Colony Farm Regional Park.

All of it needing a place to stay by the end of the year.

It’s clear that the organization is needed — and is filling a huge gap — however, more community support is needed.

For more information, you're encouraged to visit the People's Pantry website or its Facebook page.