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PEI potatoes help feed Fort St. John needs

It’s not every day that 50,000 pounds of P.E.I. potatoes land on the doorstep of the Fort St. John food bank. The challenge now for the Salvation Army is getting them all out to those hungry and in need by the end of June.
JaredBraun-SalvationArmyFSJ-PEIpotatoes
Jared Braun, executive director for the Fort St. John Salvation Army, unloads a truckload of PEI potatoes, May 17, 2022.

It’s not every day that 50,000 pounds of P.E.I. potatoes land on the doorstep of the Fort St. John food bank.

The challenge now for the Salvation Army is getting them all out to those hungry and in need by the end of June.

The agency is among hundreds of Canadian food banks receiving shipments of the most famous export from the island province, after trade with the U.S. was halted last fall over concerns about potato wart.

With tonnes of stranded potatoes having nowhere to go and no one to feed, Food Banks Canada was among those to step in to redistribute them across the country with the help of the P.E.I. Potato Board, the federal government, and other food bank groups.

“The timing is awesome. How many of us have been feeling the crunch at the grocery store, and where can we cut costs?” said Salvation Army executive director Jared Braun Tuesday afternoon, before hopping into a skid steer and unloading 21 pallets from a container truck fresh off the highway from Edmonton. “Here’s an opportunity for us to help people out a little bit in these inflationary times.”

Bringing the potatoes to Fort St. John, which first travelled by train to Edmonton, was no simple task.

At first, the Salvation Army was told the logistics likely couldn’t be arranged after it first expressed interest in a shipment.

When those headwinds cleared, Braun was told they would be receiving 21 pallets, about 2300 pounds of potatoes on each.

“Say again? We cannot take 21 pallets of potatoes at the food bank… we’ll take a max of five,” Braun says with a laugh. But, as his food bank manager, Melanie Mason, would later report, “They’re only bringing them in that quantity. You either take them all, or none.”

Braun says he was almost ready to turn the potatoes away, but with some helpful pointers he was able to find a warehouse to store them off site, free of charge, as they are distributed out into the community.

Locally, the potatoes will be given out through the food bank, used for meals at the Centre of Hope, and processed and given a new shelf life through the Nourish program partnership between the Salvation Army and NEAT.

Braun says they’ve contacted other agencies who can also use the food, including the hospital, NENAS, and the Women’s Resource Society. No plans have been made yet, but he’s hoping for a day or two of community giveaways too.

“We’re hoping to get rid of them as fast as possible,” he says, admitting he was still trying to picture what 50,000 pounds of potatoes looks like. “It’s a big number.”

But, he adds, “we’ll use as many as we can.”

“We love being part of the community and doing things that are outside the box. We have the capability and the resources to do it because of the community support,” he says. “It’s not just the opportunity for us to be given to, but of us to give back too is pretty special.”


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