Greater Vancouver Food Bank wants people to stop buying ‘food bank hampers’ from grocery stores

As more turn to food banks to help make ends meet, some Vancouver grocery stores have started offering $10 "food bank hampers" for sale. But the Greater Vancouver Food Bank tells Cole Schisler that amount of money could go a long way as a donation.

As more and more British Columbians turn to food banks to make ends meet, multiple major grocery stores have started offering so-called “food bank hampers” for sale so shoppers can help support their local food banks.

There’s just one problem: the Greater Vancouver Food Bank (GVFB) says the bags don’t actually help — and they want grocers to stop offering them.

The bags are often sold for between $10 and $20. Inside the bags are items like pasta, tomato sauce, peanut butter, high-sodium soups, beans, cherry pie filing — even hygiene items like soap and toothpaste.


David Long, CEO of the GVFB, says he loves to see how eager the public is to support the food bank, but he wants people to avoid buying any kind of “hamper” they can’t see inside of.

As more and more British Columbians turn to food banks to make ends meet, multiple major grocery stores have started offering so-called “food bank hampers” for sale so shoppers can help support their local food banks. (Courtesy Greater Vancouver Food Bank)

“Even though it says on the front ‘helping community,’ you really don’t know as the public what’s inside there. We’ve had bags with toothpaste, bags with soap — if my kids were hungry, they’d have clean teeth and clean hands but that doesn’t really help them.”

Long says for the same dollar value, the food bank can give clients pasta, ground beef, eggs, cereal, and fresh produce like onions, potatoes and apples.

“You can make a really nice meal out of this. In fact, two or three meals, versus what we get from the grocery stores,” Long says. “I’d love the grocery stores to come and talk to me about what they might want to put in a bag for us if the public wants to continue with that. But, ideally, we want to see the public donate cash to us on our website.”

Long suggests that if grocers want to help, they could also look at adding a barcode where customers can donate directly to the food bank.


Cynthia Boulter, COO of the food bank, echoes that. She says the food that comes in the bags has little nutritional value.

“We have some pineapple chunks, some beans, some stuffing and some really high sodium instant noodles. This is not the food that we distribute. The nutritional value of the food in these bags doesn’t match anywhere near what we’re handing out. At the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, the food we hand out is over 60 per cent fresh and we just want to keep increasing that.”

“When people have that instinct to support their community, which is amazing, it’s really better served by contacting your food bank and figuring out how to donate cash,” Boulter adds.

Boulter and Long are calling on the grocery stores to immediately stop offering the bags, and reach out to the food bank about more constructive ways to move forward.

And the need for solutions has never been higher. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank says the last three years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients reaching out to them. The food bank was feeding 9,000 people a month three years ago, today it feeds over 16,000 a month and that number is expected to rise.


CityNews reached out to several grocery stores that offer the hampers.

“We have been in discussions with Greater Vancouver Food Bank leadership about changes to the food bank hamper program, and we continue to work together on ways to support their important work in the community,” Sobeys said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Loblaw tells CityNews it has “a strong partnership with Food Banks Canada, and we worked directly with them to determine the variety of items to put in our hampers.”

“Last year, we raised and donated a record of more than $110 million for charities and non-profits, the majority of which went to food banks and food reclamation agencies to help address the issue of food insecurity. This total includes donations directly from customers. And in recent years, we’re proud to have raised approximately $172,000 for GVFB alone,” the statement reads.

Georgia Main, the owners of IGA grocery stores, tell CityNews that it deals with 12 different food banks throughout the province through the BC Sharing program, and has donated thousands of dollars to the GVFB.


“All our stores provide a clear plastic bag display at each store showing what is each bag before customers make donation. We get feedback from time to time from our local food banks asking for specific items, which we adjust our products. The food banks receive the products in a paper bags as our customers have asked for us to be more sustainable and allows the food banks to recycle,” reads a statement sent Thursday afternoon.

“As per GVFB wishes we have immediately cancelled any further bags going to them and will create greater awareness of the BC Sharing program to raise money at each of our tills.”