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'It's bittersweet': Saskatoon's Good Food Box program is permanently shutting down

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CHEP will continue to organize its community markets throughout the city, selling food at prices below those of grocery stores.

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At Station 20 West, an energetic team of volunteers packed hundreds of onions, carrots, apples and other staples into cardboard boxes and blue plastic containers, carefully weighed the produce and ran fruits and vegetables down a small conveyor belt.

For more than a quarter century, the Good Food Box program has enabled Saskatoon residents to purchase a basket full of affordable local food every two weeks, packaged by volunteers and delivered to pickup locations across the city.

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After this week, the program will permanently close.

Cory Lang CHEP Good food
Cory Lang, CHEP Good Food Box Coordinator, hosts the final run of his program in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at Station 20 West. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

CHEP Good Food, an organization that runs various food security programs in Saskatoon, said the program simply no longer makes sense.

Fewer people were buying the Good Food Box, in some areas of the city there were no “depot coordinators” to organize collection of the boxes in their area, and keeping prices stable was a challenge.

“There are still people who benefit from (the Good Food Box),” said CHEP Executive Director Gord Androsoff. “But when you look at the resources that go into it, it’s simply a decision to redistribute the scarce resources we have.”

In recent years, Saskatoon's food insecurity situation has changed as food prices skyrocketed and continued to rise, Androsoff said.

“We've had to downsize and limit choices, and food prices keep rising. The price of milk will soon rise by another four percent – our buyer only informed the employees yesterday. Many staple foods – bread, milk, eggs, cheese – continue to rise.

“It makes a big dent. For some people, after they pay for their housing – if they can get housing – there isn’t much left for food.”

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Sandra Schweder CHEP Good food
Sandra Schweder, CHEP employee, places scallions and lettuce in a box during the latest run of the Good Food Box program at Station 20 West in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Heather Jackle, CHEP's community relations facilitator, helped pack the final Good Food boxes Wednesday and reflected on the program's decades-long run.

“It’s bittersweet to see this end,” she said. “Certainly this program has impacted many people – from farms to volunteers to box buyers. But there are many other programs we need to focus on so we can reach people who truly need our services and programs.”

CHEP will continue to organize its community markets throughout the city, where food will be sold at prices below those of grocery stores.

But the Good Food Box was one of the main programs that allowed CHEP to purchase food from local farms and producers, rather than from national or multinational organizations.

“It was really our local food channel,” Androsoff said. “We don’t get as much local food at our community markets. We want to find a way to maintain these relationships, but we’re not quite sure how that will work yet.”

Community markets also offer some great benefits.

CHEP Good food
CHEP employee Dale Jack brings boxes of a variety of fresh foods to his delivery truck during the latest run of the Good Food Box program at Station 20 West in Saskatoon, Sask. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Cory Lang, CHEP food access coordinator, said people would rather have the option to choose exactly which fruits and vegetables they want to take home rather than having a pre-made box.

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“No matter your income or situation, it’s good to have this agency,” he said.

Jackle said CHEP faces very different challenges now than when it launched the Good Food Box program 26 years ago. The focus remains on the organization's most important mission: getting food into the hands of the people who need it most.

“With the Good Food Box, where we remained quite strict on prices, it was a little difficult to manage this crisis,” she said.

“It has been an absolute reality in recent years that many basic foods are becoming increasingly unaffordable. It is a very stark reality regarding the current level of food access and affordability.

“It was a wonderful 26 years. I've only been part of the Good Food Box for a few years, but it's been a wonderful 26 years of working with our community and we look forward to finding ways to continue working together in the future. ”

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