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Christmas Fund bolsters Mustard Seed's food distribution to 45,000 people

Food bank collects donations from farms and grocers; helps thousands of people every month.

Every month, the Mustard Seed provides 45,000 people in Greater Victoria with healthy, fresh and sustainable food through the largest food bank on Vancouver Island.

Last year, operating out of its 2,000-square-metre Esquimalt warehouse, it distributed 984,000 kilograms of food with a value of just under $6 million.

Contributions from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund help bolster those efforts, said Treska Watson, food security manager for the Mustard Seed.

”At this time of the year the fund is pivotal for our programs, which include meals and 1,200 Christmas hampers for families, couples and singles in need,” Watson said.

This year’s Times Colonist Christmas Fund campaign has received $516,370.40 in donations from 1,882 donors so far. The fundraising goal is $1 million.

Watson said the fund’s contributions are also used to purchase fresh milk and items that are both nutritious and popular with families, such as canned tuna, peanut butter or Kraft Dinner.

A fleet of three trucks is on the road every week day collecting donated food, produce from local farms during the growing season and up to 5,400 kilograms of food from grocery stores every day.

The collected food is then shared with the Food Share Network, made up of more than 70 non-profit agencies, community centres, churches, schools, Indigenous communities and seniors housing.

Watson said the Mustard Seed is seeing more and more individuals and families having difficulty buying food. “We are also seeing the emergence of a new demographic — people who are hesitant to use a food bank because they feel that there are others who need the help more than them. We’re trying to get the word out, to encourage these folks to ask for help through their church, community centre or their children’s school.”

The centre “rescues” produce and other food that might otherwise be wasted from 11 Thrifty Foods stores, five Fairway Markets, two Country Grocers, Whole Foods, Walmart, Costco, Urban Grocer, both Root Cellars and others.

“We never know what we are going to get. Sometimes it is three skids of cauliflower because the prices are so high shoppers aren’t buying them, or blueberries, because some of the baskets may have one or two mouldy berries in the bunch,” said Watson.

Food distribution is only one of the programs run out of the warehouse, where “no square-inch is unused.” Three commercial kitchens in the centre turn some rescued food into sauces, soups, stocks and smoothies — reducing waste.

The Mustard Seed’s chef, with help from a team of volunteers, uses whatever is available to prepare 150 to 200 nutritious meals a day for the community at its Queens Avenue street church.

“It’s a juggling act, but we work with what we have,” said Watson.

She said the goal is to see the centre transformed into a food hub, providing skills training in cooking, with tenants such as food trucks sharing the kitchens and providing a revenue stream for the operation.

“We are always trying to be creative and come up with ideas to feed more people.”

How to donate to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund

Donate online. Go to ­, which will take you to our Canada Helps page. It is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Donate by mail. Send a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

Donate by phone. Use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.