The Neighbourhood Market at Saanich Baptist Church is one of 10 that provide fresh produce to people in need across Greater Victoria. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

The Neighbourhood Market at Saanich Baptist Church is one of 10 that provide fresh produce to people in need across Greater Victoria. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

Daily free food markets offer fresh produce to Greater Victorians in need

Ten Neighbourhood Markets operate across the region

Dozens of people lined up in the crisp evening air outside Saanich Baptist Church on Thursday, not to attend mass, but to grocery shop.

Carrying reusable bags and pulling shopping trolleys, mothers with children, elderly people, newly immigrated families, individuals undergoing chemotherapy treatment and every manner of person in between waited their turn. Steps away, on the church patio lit by a few overhead lights and outdoor heaters, a bustling group of volunteers worked to fill each visitor’s needs.

“And would you like some potatoes? Red or white?”

“We’ve got some kale. Want some fresh kale?”

(Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

The Neighbourhood Market isn’t like other food banks. Here, people don’t have to register, community is plentiful, there’s no designated amount that they receive and fresh, healthy food is the priority. This week, volunteers are the most excited about the brie cheese they have to offer – 80 pounds of it.

“Dairy is what people want,” volunteer Gail Bones said. “It’s too expensive for a lot of people to afford.”

Also available are yogurt, butter, milk, local coffee, baked goods and every manner of fruit and vegetable. Prior to the pandemic, people actually got to pick out all their own goods themselves, just like they would at a grocery store.

“I think that we’re making people feel valued,” said Rick Boomer, missions ministry director and organizer of the market. This is important – de-stigmatizing accepting charity.

“It takes a lot of courage to line up at a place where you get free food,” volunteer Rob Reinhart said. The volunteers work hard to make people feel comfortable, learning their names, their food preferences and their stories. They want it to be a place of community.

Friendships have been formed at the market, Boomer said proudly. He pointed out two women who bonded over a similar backstory of severe car accidents that left them unable to work. “Without the market, they wouldn’t eat,” he said. “They literally don’t have any food money.”

The Saanich market is one of 10 run across Greater Victoria by Living Edge, a not-for-profit project of the Anglican Network of Canada. But, Boomer has gone out of his way to make his own partnerships with producers and supply even more food to his market.

At the start of the pandemic, he reached out to food wholesaler, Sysco, which without its regular demand from restaurants had a sudden excess of food at its warehouse. Now, Boomer gets a pickup truck of donated goods from Sysco every Thursday morning.

Rick Boomer, missions ministry director at Saanich Baptist Church. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)

“It is unbelievable,” he said. A few weeks ago, he arrived at the warehouse and found a pallet full of 450 pounds of bacon waiting for him. Because the market primarily receives goods past their best-before dates, meat is rare and exciting.

In the summer, Boomer and volunteers spent time at Gatton House Farm where New Zealand born farmer Jason Austin devotes his land to growing for charity.

“We started with blank fields, we roto-tilled it all, we planted it all, we harvested it all and then we handed it all out,” Boomer said. Often times, they were handing out produce so fresh it still had that morning’s dirt on it.

For Boomer it is these partnerships, this gathering of community around a common cause, that make the markets so special. He pointed out that their one market is run by volunteers from five different churches and that the purpose isn’t to spread any one of their religious messages.

“Yes we are the church, but when you come and see what’s going on we’re not asking anything. All we’re doing is giving,” he said.

More information on where and when each market is can be found at livingedge.ngo .

charityFoodfood securityGroceriesSaanich

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