Loss of North Okanagan Good Food Box program a concern for low-income residents

Volunteers putting together Good Food Boxes.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Food Action Society of the North Okanagan

VERNON - At a time when she was on disability and her husband had just lost his job, the box of cheap, fresh produce that came every month made things a little easier for Lumby resident Julia Richardson.

The Good Food Box has been helping residents of the North Okanagan access affordable, healthy food for roughly 17 years, ever since an Interior Health nutritionist came up with the idea. At the time, it was pretty cutting edge; now, you’ll find Good Food Box programs in most major cities.

But people won’t be able to sign up for the $17 box of fruits and veggies anymore. Organizers say the program is simply no longer feasible.

It’s sad news for people like Richardson, who’ve been using the program for years.

“When we started using it, at that time we didn’t have a lot of money and it helped a lot,” Richardson says. “For us, the need was definitely there.”

Although she’s now in a comfortable financial position, Richardson has continued to participate in the program.

It’s a perfect example of the whole idea behind the service, which Food Action Society of the North Okanagan chair Juris Vinters explains as being set up for two groups of people.

“One, for low income people who find it difficult to access affordable food,” Vinters says. “The other half are community supporters who help us keep our buying pool big enough that we can reduce the prices.”

While the need has remained strong, Vinters says community participation has dwindled in recent years and food costs have increased, making it difficult for them to keep the price affordable.

Vinters believes there are simply too many competing food service options available nowadays, and that’s taking customers away from the Good Food Box.

“People expect to be able to pay online, to have delivery,” Vinters says. “Access to produce has really changed over the past few years.”

Despite efforts to keep the program going, Vinters says the Food Action Society eventually decided to close it and look for other opportunities to support those in need.

“That was the most heartbreaking part, we know that it will affect people who relied on it, whether they were elderly individuals struggling to make ends meet people who had boxes sponsored for them,” he says.

A 2011 and 2012 study by the Interior Health Authority found that 14 per cent of households in the region experience food insecurity, meaning they worry about or lack the financial means to buy healthy and safe food. For households on social assistance, food insecurity rates were as high as 78 per cent.

Richardson will greatly miss her box, which she says encouraged her to try cooking with ingredients she might not otherwise try. And she always enjoyed the recipes that came tucked in with the vegetables.

“I personally wouldn’t even mind paying more for my box so someone else who needs it can get theirs,” Richardson says.

Refunds for this month’s boxes are being made and anyone with inquiries can contact info@foodaction.ca.

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