Food costs take a Big Bite at the Drop-In Centre

By Judy Aldous, CBC News. Sept. 30, 2015.

Glen Pereira, left, from the Calgary Drop-In Centre accepts a donation from Evgeny Krivosheev, Calgary Foodbank. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Glen Pereira, left, from the Calgary Drop-In Centre accepts a donation from Evgeny Krivosheev, Calgary Foodbank. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

If you think your food bills have gotten bloated with the rising cost of food, then meet Glen Pereira.

“My food budget for the year is about $4 million,” said the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre’s food manager.

It sounds big, but then imagine feeding 1,000 people three meals a day on that.

Given that his food costs have risen 20 per cent a year, and government contributions have remained stagnant for more than five years, it requires incredible creativity and flexibility with his menu planning and never saying no to a donation.

“I can’t say enough about the food bank,” said Pereira.

The Calgary Food Bank arrives twice a day with a truckload of food, though Pereira never knows what it will be.

Today it’s mainly fresh produce donated by local farmers.

Pereira surveys the haul of fresh tomatoes, corn and watermelon and his menu for the week starts to change.

“You can be sure tomato salad will be on the menu tomorrow. I’ll serve watermelon slices for snack.”

The only thing he leaves behind is the eggplant.

“My clientele would not appreciate it enough.”

Sponsor a meal

The other way Pereira keeps his food costs down is by looking for individuals and businesses to sponsor a meal.

Looking at the menu for the week, it’s easy to see which meals are sponsored, as the pancake and sausage breakfast stands out from the regular morning fare of cereal or oatmeal.

Pereira calls those meals “chef’s choice.”

When a meal is sponsored, “I can serve things like spaghetti with meat sauce, perogies with smokies, porkchops. That’s because they’re paying for it. It’s not coming out of my budget,” he said.

Pereira says he has to follow the Canada Food Guide, and it’s a challenge.

“Am I going to be over budget every month? How can I make this up in other areas? At the same time you don’t want to put out crappy food.”

The provincial government does fund 50 per cent of the DI’s food costs, but that isn’t going as far as it used to, according to executive director Debbie Newman.

“That may seem generous, but government’s contribution has been stagnant for more than five years despite that fact that our food costs have risen 20 per cent this past year.”

How you can help

You can find out more information about sponsoring a meal here, or donate to the Calgary Food Bank.

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