'Absolutely healthier': Mississauga Food Bank clients say new program offers fresher options

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Jane Sangster says she never imagined she would need to use a food bank, but now that she's off work on disability, she relies on them.

"I've been sick for a number of years and I only get 60 per cent of my salary, so I need the food banks to feed me, to meet my minimum food requirements."

Sangster is a client and a volunteer at The Compass in Mississauga, which receives food from The Mississauga Food Bank. The 53-year-old says she's noticed a big difference in the last few months when it comes to fresh and healthy food — noting an increase in fruit and vegetables.

It's partly due to a new program that was launched by The Mississauga Food Bank called ReclaimFRESH. It partners with grocery stores and collects items that would otherwise be thrown away, rescues the food and gets it into the hands of people who need it.

It's happening in a city where there have been more than 133,000 food bank visits so far in 2019 and a 16 per cent increase in those visits in the last fiscal year, according to a report released earlier this month titled Who's Hungry: Profile of Hunger in the Toronto Region.

"It makes an enormous difference because those foods cost a lot of money in the grocery stores and those are the foods people don't spend money on because they can't get that much food for their money," Sangster said, adding that often clients will opt for less healthy options because they're cheaper.

'Changing how Canadians think about food'

Meghan Nicholls, executive director of The Mississauga Food Bank, says since the program launched six months ago, 20 area grocery stores have signed up to be a part of it.

"For people who are using food banks, whether for a short period or a long period, helping them stay healthy also contributes to their success in life. And so we want to make sure the food we are providing is as healthy as possible."

Nicholls says typically the food might not look perfect but it's still perfectly good to eat. 

"I think it's changing how Canadians think about food," she said.

"People want carrots that look long and thin with the beautiful green top like you draw with a crayon when you're a kid, but food sometimes comes out of the ground looking weird and there's no reason you can't eat it."

Nicholls says in addition to feeding more people in the community, they're also reducing waste.

The Mississauga Food Bank estimates it can provide an additional five million meals in five years if the program continues to grow.