About 60,000 pounds of PEI potatoes arrived last week and a Collingwood Rotarian is helping organize their distribution to support food security programs
A little over a week ago, a local Rotary club received delivery of 60,000 pounds of potatoes from Prince Edward Island, and nearly half of the tubers were sent to local food banks and organizations.
The Rotary Club of South Georgian Bay helped coordinate the distribution, which involved Rotary clubs in Collingwood and Orillia and bursts of potatoes arriving at food banks, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, youth centers and several other organizations whose outreach involves countermeasures to food insecurity.
The potatoes came from Prince Edward Island, where a surplus of the island’s flagship crop has accumulated after export to the United States was canceled this year. Routine tests have revealed some potato wart in two crops, causing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to suspend the export of seed potatoes to the United States. Later, the suspension was extended to table and processing potatoes.
However, most potatoes are free from the fungus, which is not harmful to humans.
About 10% of PEI’s 2021 potato crop (300 million books) will be destroyed. Farmers receive government funding of about 8.5 cents a pound for potatoes that are destroyed.
In response to the surplus, the Government of Canada is funding a program to divert 290 million pounds of surplus safe potatoes to processors, packers, dehydrators, food banks and other markets.
The part of the plan involving diversion to food banks is where local Rotary clubs get involved.
Martin Oosterveld, a Rotarian from the Collingwood South Georgian Bay Club, has been tasked with coordinating the project, but the potato project involves Rotary clubs throughout the district.
“Rotary has stepped up to say that we know a lot of people in the community and we can be part of the solution,” Oosterveld said. “It was a great experience and motivated many Rotarians.
On Friday March 4, 6,000 bags of potatoes (10 pounds each) arrived in Simcoe County.
Thanks to a Rotarian couple, Mike and Kim Giffen, the potatoes have been delivered and some remain in a large warehouse (Giffen Country Market) in Glen Huron.
Oosterveld and the team contacted 211 Community Connection to find local organizations that address food insecurity and connected with the organizations to donate sacks of potatoes.
Rotarians arrived at the warehouse on March 12 to transport the tubers. Clubs from across the region came together to collect potatoes for their local service organizations. In Collingwood, the potatoes were brought to five different churches, My Friend’s House, Barbara Weider House and local food banks. The Rotary Club of Wasaga Beach picked up deliveries to food banks in Wasaga Beach and Stayner.
The Rotary Club of Orillia picked up five pallets of potatoes (approximately 1,300 pounds) to distribute around Orillia at Sharing Place, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, The Lighthouse, Orillia Youth Center, EarlyOn Child and Family Centre, St. James Anglican Church, Chippewas of Rama (Mnjikaning) First Nation, Green Haven Shelter, Orillia Native Women’s Group and Coldwater Food Bank.
A total of 3,500 bags (35,000 pounds) of potatoes were distributed throughout the region.
“There are 3,500 families that have potatoes for about a week…that’s a pretty big footprint,” Oosterveld said. “It was something we could really build on. We were so isolated for two years…one club said it was the best service project we had in two years.
Although the local Rotary club has supported local food banks in the past, Oosterveld said they are “pulling back the curtain” further than ever to really look at food insecurity in their communities.
“Rotarians have pretty privileged lives…if you don’t look for these kinds of issues around town, you don’t see them, but I think we’re waking up to them now,” Oosterveld said. “We are a very wealthy community and yet [food insecurity] is always present. And that’s really been an even bigger issue with COVID-19. »
There are still potatoes left, so, Oosterveld said, there are plans to make another distribution on April 2, although there aren’t enough potatoes to match all the first deliveries.
“We’ve got about nine slips left and we’re still at the stage where we’re taking advantage of Saturday’s glow and getting feedback from people,” Oosterveld said. “We’ll do it one more time at least.”
If there is a local organization that helps provide food to people in need, they can contact the local Rotary club to request delivery of potatoes. The club does not currently deliver to individuals.
Although the club is not actively looking for volunteers to help deliver potatoes, Oosterveld said there are many volunteer opportunities with Rotary clubs and encouraged people to check out their local club.
Most importantly, Oosterveld said it’s important for many people to keep local food banks and food safety programs in mind when doing their regular shopping.
“We need a whole group of people to think about donating food,” Oosterveld said.
For contact details and more information about the Rotary Club of Collingwood -South Georgian Bay, visit their website here.