COCHRANE— The Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area has been hard at work trying to curb food waste in the community with its newest project, the Free Food Shed.
After a few months of searching for an accessible, permanent host location, the Society identified the perfect location at St. Andrews United Church on 1st Street East adjacent to Historic Downtown.
The foodshed will have a dry pantry, fridge and freezer which will be accessible 24 hours a day.
Volunteers with the Helping Hands Society will be responsible for maintaining the shed, checking on it once or twice a day, and removing any spoiled food, items that do not belong or items that have been previously opened.
Food security programs manager April Baird, said the location was chosen as St. Andrews has, for a long time, been a location for residents to turn to for food services in times of need.
“They were the ones that were running the Tuesday soup kitchen, so they do a lot of free food. They do the free Thanksgiving meals and stuff like that,” she said. “They’re really into food security programs in Cochrane anyways, which made it a really nice fit.”
The construction of the shed is being undertaken by the Building Futures project in town, which is an alternative education stream for Grade 10 students at Bow Valley High School and Cochrane High School.
The students work alongside professional tradespeople from Kingsmith Homes to gain valuable experience on the job site.
Big Hill Electrical is also donating time and manpower to provide power to the fridge and freezer in the Free Food Shed.
“It’s a collaborative effort of quite a few organizations in town,” Baird said.
She added the core of the Free Food Shed program is to help eliminate food waste in the community.
Helping Hands coordinates many of the food drives in the community that go to support the Activettes Food Bank. Every year, Baird said, they see a lot of items that are past the “best before” date on the packaging, that cannot be used by the food bank.
“That’s food that the food bank can’t really take because they can’t give that out,” she said. “A lot of families won’t accept those items.”
Food past its best before date has not necessarily expired, especially in the case of canned or dry goods, and non-perishables.
“Looking in neighbouring communities like Banff, and Canmore and Calgary, all of these communities have food recovery centres where they’re taking food like that, whether it be from grocery stores, or food drives or hotels in the area, they’re taking food that other people maybe can’t use and repurposing it and offering it in a way that’s either free or virtually free to the community who might want it,” she said.
Baird said she hopes to contact many local food suppliers, like bakeries and grocery stores, that may be able to offload some of the products that did not sell during the day and would otherwise be thrown out, even if the food is still good.
In addition, she hopes individuals and families will donate as well.
While families who may be struggling with food security can take advantage of the Free Food Shed, everyone is welcome to take or donate food items to the program.
“Essentially at the core of this program it’s going to be a community food exchange program. We want people to have a place to take the food that they don’t want, or that they don’t like,” she said. “The concept is purely to leave what you can and take what you need.
“This isn’t just for people who need food, or need help with food security, this is for anybody. We really just want to start trying to combat some of our area’s food waste,” she added.
Baird hopes to see the Free Food Shed up and running by the end of the month.
For more updates and the official announcement regarding the opening of the Free Food Shed, keep an eye on the Helping Hands Society of Cochrane and Area on Facebook.