Edgy and Alive—a great place to grow!

Edgy and Alive—a great place to grow!

By Rita Button

Neil gets things done. That’s what Deborah Price told me on Tuesday at COOL Church on Blanshard when she told me the story of Living Edge, a way of creating community with food.

Living Edge Market - Photo by Living Edge

Living Edge Market - Photo by Living Edge

A while ago, Neil van Heerden noticed that supermarkets and other grocery stores were discarding food that he knew could be distributed among those with financial struggles, for whatever reason. The expectations and regulations guiding the selling of food resulted in slightly blemished apples, for example, being relegated to the compost heap, or, worse, to the garbage dump. Neil figured that most people involved in the food business likely didn’t enjoy the waste that occurred daily, so he asked if he could pick up what couldn’t be sold for distribution to those who couldn’t afford to buy the food that was being dumped.

This was the beginning of what has become known as Living Edge Community. Churches in Victoria take on this work for the needy in their communities. Run totally by volunteers arranged by a church or sometimes a community group in the area, this program gives people a chance to survive in an increasingly expensive world. People who are fighting to survive and who are beginning to find ways to enjoy their lives are being given a chance to make ends meet by taking advantage of Living Edge markets, resulting in their being able to live less on the edge! By gathering the food at Living Edge, people are able to prepare nourishing food for their families and friends.

The working poor and people who are just beginning to make it, but still struggling, are well served by this opportunity. Deborah identified a few categories: students, young families, the disabled, immigrants, and the elderly are among those who are grateful for the organization that has grown with the help of a number of churches. All are welcome, no questions asked, no identification required.

While Mustard Seed fills a niche of supplying the non-perishable food items, Living Edge collects fresh produce, dairy products and other groceries near their “best before” date, and arranges them in market format—the heaviest items being first in the choice line, ending with the lightest and most fragile products. People are invited to choose what they need. No rules. Well, okay, one rule does exist: if a product is in short supply—for example, twenty apples for a line-up of thirty, people are limited to one apple that particular day. But that’s the only rule. Really.

Individual churches (or groups or churches, as in the case of their Central Saanich Market which is hosted by five different churches) organize the nine markets which have grown out of Neil’s vision. Each church or church group is responsible for one of the markets. This includes finding a manager and volunteers as well as paying to cover the costs of insurance, fees and gas required to redistribute the food. Deborah wished that Living Edge could find one thousand people to donate $20.00 a month, thereby ensuring the continuation of the markets and allowing the volunteers to use their energy to get the work done instead of mounting a fund raising campaign. Also, they need another van. They have two, but one is becoming totally unreliable and needs to be replaced.

But the market itself is a joy—for the volunteers and the consumers. While waiting in line, people talk to each other. Since the markets are offered in various areas, it’s neighbours who begin friendships while waiting their turn to choose the food they need, often getting some for friends who are unable to get out. And so, a community begins to grow—people talk about their challenges, offer solutions, and connect with each other while selecting what’s for dinner that night. Deborah told me about one person who is going blind and who was having difficulty making ends meet. After she’d been picking up vegetables and fruit at one of the markets for awhile, her optometrist noticed that the progression to becoming blind had slowed. Her eyes had stabilized. The doctor wondered if her nutrition had improved. She knew it had, and she couldn’t wait to thank the volunteers for their invaluable contributions. Nutrition makes a difference. Living Edge makes it happen.

And while all of this selecting occurs, people are learning to help themselves. Sharing and helping begin the feeling of comfort and belonging. And finally, the welcoming, non-judgmental attitudes of the organizers illustrate that each person has value and is valued. A sense of trust morphs into a sense of belonging, and there’s the community just waiting to invite the next person to the table of delicious food and conversation!

To find locations of Living Edge markets, go to www.livingedge.ngo. The website is filled with information that will help you get started. As well, telephone numbers and ways of getting involved are included.

Finally, I want to tell you about the videos Deborah showed me on the website and on Facebook. Volunteers and consumers alike made similar comments—“so beautiful!” “how perfect!” were words that emanated from smiling faces!

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