A group that has been placing empty grocery bags on local doorsteps and asking the public to fill them is not associated with the Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) Food Bank, says that organization’s co-ordinator.
Dave Murray said he first became aware of the issue when a member of the public brought him one of the bags about a month ago, wondering if they were connected to the ACS food bank, a registered charity.
The bags come with a note that states “Operation Clean Out Your Pantry, Greetings from the Fraser Valley Grocery Resource Society.”
The message asks for the bags to be filled with items such as “canned food, coffee and staples” and left on the doorstep for collection on “Sunday afternoon.”
“Your donations will help more than you can imagine. We support the local food banks.”
Murray said the ACS food bank uses this method of collection only once a year – near Thanksgiving – and is not affiliated in any way with the Grocery Resource Society.
“It’s competition in the community, so there’s confusion … People think they’re giving to the food bank, but they’re not…” he said.
The website for the Fraser Valley Grocery Resource Society (fraservalleygroceryresourcesociety.com) lists Kelly Fowler as its president. He did not respond to a voicemail or email message by press deadline Tuesday.
The website states the society works “hand in hand with other societies that have the same vision to improve access to quality grocery items for seniors, students and low-income families.”
It says a plan is in the works to have free delivery of groceries to seniors and disabled people who can’t make it to the society’s “distribution centre,” as well as to create a members-only grocery store for low-income people.
There is no address listed on the website for a distribution centre.
Fowler is co-founder of an organization in Chilliwack called the Oasis Outreach Society (oasisoutreachsociety.org), which runs a store that re-sells donated food items – mainly from businesses – at reduced prices to low-income members.
The other founder, Kevin MacNeil, said Fowler is no longer associated with the Chilliwack operation, and Oasis has no connections to the Fraser Valley Grocery Resource Society.
“We do not canvass Abbotsford at all. We’re strictly in Chilliwack,” MacNeil said. “We have a very good reputation.”
He said the store, located on Yale Road in Chilliwack, currently has about 1,300 members who do not qualify for support from local food banks but are on a low income. They qualify for membership through referrals from community agencies.
This is not the first time the ACS Food Bank has had concerns about other people collecting food in the community.
A questionable operation called the Single Parents’ Food Bank, run by Mirek Kwasny, occasionally goes door-to-door to solicit food and cash donations, although it is not a registered charity and does not appear to have a distribution centre.