By Mike Anderson
With food costs on the rise, low-income families and seniors are turning to a food rescue program in Keswick that provides free produce and grocery items twice a week.
The program is run by Hagit and Issac Azari, who moved to Jackson’s Point in the summer of 2021 from Richmond Hill.
“Rescued food is food that supermarkets take off the shelves that doesn’t look good or maybe it’s not sellable anymore in their eyes. But it’s still good. It’s still perfectly fine for humans. It’s still nutritious,” said Hagit.
“So instead of stores throwing it in the landfill, we rescue it so people can eat it for free.”
Hagit stresses there are no health concerns with rescued food.
“There’s no expired date in Canada. It’s a best-before date,” she said.
“The milk we have today has a best-before date a few days from now. But, a bag of milk is usually good for two weeks after the best-before date, as long as it’s in the fridge.”
The couple saw a need in Keswick, as many low-income families and seniors don’t own a car and can’t easily access the Georgina Food Pantry in Sutton.
“There’s a big community of single parents and seniors here,” Hagit said. “Many of them are struggling to feed themselves and their families.”
“We have mothers come with their children, and the children can pick whatever they’d like. And, we get baked goods and candies, things that I’m sure they can’t afford to get.”
“We also send a lot of food to the Chippewas on Georgina Island. We help supply their food pantry there.”
“I think the program is excellent,” said Lillian, 81, who was picking up groceries for her neighbours, also seniors.
“If you look around, you can see almost 90 per cent of the people here are lower income. If this program didn’t exist, they would do without certain things, especially meat, vegetables and fruit, because they can’t afford it.”
June, a single mother who works in Keswick, is also grateful for the program.
“Today is my third day coming here. It’s helping me because I’m the mom of four kids, and I’m the only one working.”
“Food is very expensive right now, and I’m behind with my bills. But this program helps me. I’m going less to the grocery store and saving money.”
Hagit says they make sure people know the food is rescued and sort it ahead of time to ensure any spoiled items, especially fruit, are removed.
She also says their program, which provides groceries to nearly 60 families, is not meant to replace the Georgina Food Pantry but instead provides an alternative.
“The Georgina Food Pantry is great, but we don’t screen anybody. Some people are not qualified for the food bank, so they’re in a bind.”
“Here, they can just come and take. Many say they’re unsure if they can buy food or pay their rent. And now they say, oh my God, you’re saving us; this is really helping us.”
Instead of starting a program from scratch, the Azairs decided to open a Georgina chapter of No More Starving Artists (NMSA), a Barrie-based “Food Rescue” program that partners with Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue organization.
Issac, who works full-time as an electrician, does food pick-ups three times a week from supermarkets, mainly Longos, Sobeys and Zehrs, in Aurora, Newmarket and Keswick, and delivers it to the back parking lot of 204 Simcoe St., Unit 20, twice a week.
The food is often displayed upstairs on tables in the hallway or in KendraYoga. There’s free produce on Mondays, from 2 to 5 pm, and on Fridays, from 2 to 5 pm, there’s free grocery items.
The Azairs and their son have been running the program for about 15 months, with help from Kendra Mullings, the owner of KendraYoga, who allows them to use her business as a base and promotes the program on her social media.
While they’ve grateful to Mullings for providing a temporary space, they’re now searching for a permanent location.
“We’re planning to find a location where it’ll be done full-time. Kendra and Sean are amazing; they opened up their studio for us to do this, but they have to run a business here. So we need to find our own place to run this from. And I hope for many years to come,” said Hagit.
The couple has also been paying high fuel costs, about $250 a week for diesel, so they’re hoping to solicit donations from the community. They’re also looking for a few volunteers to help them out.
But while the work is exhausting, they say they don’t regret a thing.
“We knew we would do this no matter where we moved to,” said Hagit.
“We always support the community, neighbours, whoever we can help. This is from our heart,” adds Issac.
If you want to donate to the food rescue program or volunteer, email Azari4@rogers.com.
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