Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Fire, smoke damage halts operations at Mustard Seed food bank

Staff said several day’s worth of food is contaminated by smoke and has to be discarded.
Stephen Bell, senior pastor and executive director of the Mustard Seed Street Church, surveys some of the fire damage at the organizations Queens Avenue building Victoria on Monday, March 27, 2023. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

An early morning fire at the Mustard Seed caused extensive smoke damage, forcing ­Vancouver Island’s largest food bank to temporarily close its doors and throw out contaminated food.

The fire at the front entrance of the building at 625 Queens Ave. was relatively small and extinguished in about 10 minutes, said Victoria Fire Chief Dan Atkinson.

Seventeen firefighters and several trucks arrived about 6:20 a.m. to see flames at the doorway. Charred marks remained on Monday afternoon and a strong smell of smoke permeated the building.

Atkinson said the fire started on the exterior. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

On Monday afternoon, staff were assessing the damage to food stock, saying several day’s worth of food had been contaminated by smoke and is to be discarded.

A food hygienist was brought in to survey the damage.

Stephen Bell, executive director of the Mustard Seed, said if the food wasn’t sealed or in a can or if it had already been placed in hampers, it has to be discarded.

That means a day’s worth of fruits and vegetables, some dairy and non-perishable items as well as hygiene products hit with smoke will be tossed.

The Mustard Seed’s daily hot-lunch program was also cancelled.

“It’s a blow, yes, but there are some blessings,” Bell said. “This didn’t happen in the middle of the Christmas season. But it’s never a good time to have a setback like this when so many people are in need.”

Mustard Seed development director Colleen Sparks said the organization is hopeful it will be able to resume operations this week, but only with cold lunches and “hamper-style” groceries for clients who rely on the service on a daily basis.

Lunches will be served in the parking lot, and hampers can be picked up there as well, she said.

The organization replenishes its Queens Avenue facility daily from its warehouse on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt. But it could take several weeks — even months — before the Mustard Seed can operate from inside the building again.

The organization is assessing damage to walls and flooring from smoke and water.

The Mustard Seed serves about 300 hot meals a day and hands out about 1,000 food hampers a month.

Bell estimates there are 75,000 “food insecure” people in Greater Victoria.

Food-bank use has increased 30 per cent over the past three months as the price of food rose to record levels, delivering whole new user groups to the food bank, such as college students and middle-class families whose pay cheques aren’t keeping pace, he said.

For the time being, the organization is not accepting food or clothing donations at Queens Avenue.

The best way to help is through monetary donations at, Bell said.

“Any amount helps, every penny matters. People need food more than ever.”

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]