The #SocialEnterprise that rescues food from the bin and feeds 2,500 a day

On Friday mornings, volunteer Igor Bjelac pulls up to the loading area behind the Sapperton Save-On Foods to pick up a healthy load of less-than-perfect produce.

That fresh food will make its way to meal programs from New Westminster to Vancouver, including Aunt Leah's and the Union Gospel Mission, organised by an expanding social enterprise called Refood.

On Mondays, Bjelac helps distribute food to 40 refugee families at the Immigrant Link Centre. As a recent immigrant from Russia, Bjelac knows that Canada is a steep learning curve.

"But while they learn how to get jobs and speak English, they never have to worry about going hungry," he said.

The food-donation collaboration with the Immigrant Link Centre represents just a fraction of what Refood has been able to accomplish in the last two years.

In fact, Refood helps feed about 2,500 people a day with food that otherwise would have been thrown away.

"We help a lot of low-income refugees," Bjelac said. “When they save that money they would have spent in food, they can buy shoes and clothes. It's very helpful to them as they get started.

The centre also collects food and helps with distribution to other organisations, including a First Nations school and meal programs on the Downtown Eastside.

Refood is the organisation at the heart of the community’s effort to leverage food that would otherwise be wasted.

Founder Danison Buan’s goals are three-fold: Reduce food waste, feed the hungry and educate youth.

I started Refood two years ago after I submitted the idea to ONE Prize and it was successful,” he said. ONE Prize — which includes a $2,000 grant — is sponsored by Donald’s Market and River Market in New Westminster.

At first I had no grocery stores on board, but we started to work with Donald’s Market after winning the competition; after that we got one Save-On Foods store as well,” he said.

Since the ONE Prize win in 2015, Refood has become something of a darling in the social enterprise community, winning VanCity’s Best Pitch contest and the Coast Capital Venture Prize Social Impact Award. His collaborator Schannel Siregar also scooped the Tammy Moyer Women of Worth Award for Sustainable Living.

Right now we are scaling up, because we have added more Save-On Foods stores, PriceSmart, Unfi Canada,” he said. “At first we were just in New West, but now we work in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond as well. We have nine food sources now.

Volunteers pick up food donations — fresh food too ugly for perfection-obsessed customers — two to three times a week from each store.

Besides Immigrant Link Centre, their recipient organisations include Dixon Transition House, Vancouver Outreach, Union Gospel Mission, St. Barnabas Church, Lookout Society, Aunt Leah’s Place and others.

By providing them with food, we allow these organisations to divert money from their food services to other uses and strengthen their programming,” he said.

What makes Refood work is attention to logistics.

What each organisation gets and on what days is carefully curated, so they know what to expect,” he said. “Nothing is random; the food and the timing have to be consistent.”

Although the organisation is structurally a charity — its registration is pending — Buan is developing revenue streams to buy equipment and to compensate volunteers for their expenses. One such scheme allows people who donate $50 to $100 to get their taxes professionally prepared for free.

The most pressing need at the moment is a refrigerated truck to transport perishable foods. Volunteers are hauling food in personal vehicles, none bigger than an SUV. In practical terms, that means they have to distribute what they pick up in less than an hour.

The truck is essential to support the rapid expansion of the service, he said.

The above article by Randy Shore first published on in Apr, 2017.