Barney’s gets thousands of dollars, potatoes for free food programs

A Second Harvest trailer stands outside the Barney’s Bargain Barn Little Current location. The Homeland Mission charity operated by Rodney Deforge has received a $20,000 grant from Second Harvest and FoodRescue.ca. photo by Warren Schlote

LITTLE CURRENT – Homeland Mission and Cornerstone Christian Assembly, the non-profits affiliated with Barney’s Bargain Barn in Little Current, have received additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic from food rescue operation Second Harvest and McCain Foods in the form of funding support and weekly truckloads of free potatoes, respectively.

The first grant was $20,000 from Second Harvest and FoodRescue.ca for Homeland Mission, the charity through which the free food at Barney’s Bargain Barn’s free centre flows. That cash is designed to help cover the costs of sending trucks to pick up loads of food, trips that are otherwise funded through sales from the cash side of the Bargain Barn. It will also allow Barney’s to purchase outdoor carts.

“This is going to help me a lot because we’d have to pay for all of this through the business,” said Barney’s Bargain Barn owner Rodney (Barney) Deforge. He estimated the costs would be enough to cover the shipping costs of about 20 loads.

The funding from Second Harvest is part of a federal grant program worth $4.5 million that was announced recently by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Second Harvest was chosen as an intermediary in the chain, giving out grants from that pool to deserving organizations at a maximum of $20,000 each.

Second Harvest is a Canada-wide non-profit that gathers unused food from places like restaurants and grocery stores and redistributes it to people who may be in need of a meal. The pandemic has caused a massive spike in their volume due to the amount of people out of work and the number of food service operations that could no longer sell their food.

A solid year for Second Harvest would involve moving about 16 million pounds of food. In the past six weeks since the declaration of the pandemic alone, Second Harvest has moved three million pounds of food.

To help offset the resources needed to process all of those donations centrally, Second Harvest has been speeding up the roll-out of its FoodRescue.ca website which allows food sellers and those in need to register. Businesses with extra food post it on the portal and those in the local area are notified that they can claim and pick it up on their own. 

Barney’s Bargain Barn has been affiliated with Second Harvest for several years and fulfils some similar duties. Mr. Deforge redistributes food to two food banks per week, generally in First Nations. 

Of all the food produced in Canada, an estimated 58 percent goes to waste, according to a Second Harvest study. Of the 58 percent, an estimated 32 percent could be recovered and safely consumed instead of being discarded. That 32 percent weighs, conservatively, 11.2 metric tonnes every year. 

Second Harvest largely deals in perishable foods, meaning nourishing items such as dairy products or fresh produce must circulate through its warehouse within 24 to 48 hours, as a general target.

A second grant from Second Harvest was directed to Cornerstone Christian Assembly which is preparing to launch a free meals-on-wheels program for those in need between Manitowaning, Little Current and Mindemoya.

“We’ve been doing food boxes through The Expositor, where the paper gets the names and manages the lists. It kind of grew from there that some people would like a hot meal now,” said Mr. Deforge.

He moved his mobile kitchen to Little Current, did some renovations and said he was hoping to have the service running within a week. The grant helps to cover the expenses for that program as well as the purchase of a new industrial dishwasher for food safety.

“It’s all homestyle farmed meals; I call it farm-to-table,” said Mr. Deforge of his healthy three-course meals that include a starter soup and dessert.

“The food is usually enough for an elderly person to last two meals, that way they can have the leftovers the next day,” he said.

This is intended to be an off-season service but Mr. Deforge is launching it now to help with the pandemic. It will resume as scheduled in the fall and run through the winter.

The third burst of support came from McCain Foods, the Canadian company perhaps best known for its potato products.

“They have so many tens of thousands of pounds of potatoes that can’t go to processing because there’s no demand from restaurants, so McCain Corp is paying the shipping to bring potatoes to Little Current for us so we can pass them on,” said Mr. Deforge.

A truck is on-site every week with about 48,000 pounds of potatoes. Mr. Deforge said they will continue to show up each week until their stock depletes or until the virus has passed.

Although these spuds are normally in bulk, Mr. Deforge said they came with 20-pound bags especially for Barney’s Bargain Barn.

“It’s so important we give out healthy food, so I go after things like milk, dairy, potatoes and vegetables. A lot of (food banks) don’t want those because they can spoil, so they’re somewhat easier to get, but I’d much rather give someone 10 pounds of potatoes than a sleeve of cookies,” said Mr. Deforge.

He added that McCain Foods has a ‘special connection’ to Little Current but declined to get into specifics. A request for comment to McCain Foods went unanswered by press time Monday.