On Friday March 5 the Seaforth Highlanders took over the Cathedral kitchen to serve their monthly Maundy Cafe meal. This time, however, some guests also walked away with a shopping bag bursting with fruits and vegetables to stock their fridge.
The produce packages are the result of the brand new, Maundy Bulk Buy program: registered participants pay $15, once a month, and receive a package of produce (typically 12 items) worth much more than that. The small monthly fee allows Maundy to buy produce in bulk, directly from a produce distributor, and gives Maundy control over any other associated costs like transport.
After the inaugural produce delivery at the beginning of March, interest from neighbourhood residents is growing fast, revealing that despite glittery new towers, the area is actually home to a higher than average poverty rate.
Between the slick new condos are social housing buildings and single room occupancy hotels, both of which are home to low-income residents. But neighbourhood amenities - including grocery stores - are largely aimed at condo-dwellers with significant disposable income.
For residents of the neighbourhood living on a tight budget, accessing fresh fruit and vegetables can be difficult if not impossible.
The idea of launching some sort of low-cost produce market for the neighbourhood had been talked about by the Cathedral’s Maundy Cafe staff for some time, but the pieces never quite came together. The Covid 19 pandemic changed that.
With the increase in need being witnessed across the city, organizations that provide funding to things like Maundy Cafe also changed their focus to projects focused on long term sustainability and levelling the playing field.
When Vienne Chan came on board in the fall of 2020 it just happened that a new grant became available from Anglican Initiatives with just this focus. Vienne and Andrew Stephens-Rennie pulled together a plan for a Bulk Buy program, submitted their proposal and secured funding. From there everything seemed to fall into place.
The Maundy team turned to Britannian community centre, where a Bulk Buy program has been running for several years, and copied that model. When the Seaforth Highlanders - who had already committed to running one meal a month at the cafe - heard about the bulk buy program, they were eager to help with the logistics.
One Seaforth member volunteered to drive with Vienne to pick up the produce from the distributor - a huge contribution as it meant transportation costs for the produce could be kept to zero. “It made me realize we’d really be be able to pull this off,” Vienne recalls.
For Vienne and the Maundy team, the Bulk Buy program is more than a neat new thing that Maundy has been able to do, “This is better than a grocery store. We’re levelling the playing field when it comes to accessing fresh food and honouring the person, enabling them to day ‘I got this’”
“There’s a huge element of justice in this,” Vienne says.
If you or someone you know in the downtown area are struggling with a tight budget and want to know more about the bulk buy program, contact Vienne. Spaces are limited. Currently the program is focused on residents of the downtown neighbourhood. Delivery is not available at this time.
(Photos: submitted by the Rev. Marnie Peterson and Vienne Chan)