[Cross-posted from Slow Coast]

Volunteers survey the results of the Good Food Box run (L to R: Claire Chase, Jaden Crooks, Lee Lorenzen, Jeremy Blanchette, M. Lee Lorenzen, elbow belonging to Robert Holmgren)

On the second Wednesday of every month (except July and August) a small miracle takes place in Powell River. This miracle is like many others that happen all around us all the time; we may be entirely unaware of them, but no matter — if we took the time to write the untold history of the communities we live in, we’d be endlessly finding unsuspected hives of activity; new groups, gangs, tribes, and teams coming together for special purposes; a whole buried secret world of affiliations and affinities. And small miracles that we take for granted at our peril.

Last week’s Chamber of Commoners get-together was intended to bring together some of the many organizations in the region whose activities are less well-known than they should be. In this age of information overload, it’s hard to stay on top of everything going on even in a relatively small region like ours. We have resources like the Powell River Peak, Powell River Living, Immanence Magazine, and the community calendar; but it’s not possible for every group to get its message out. I try to keep my ear to the ground, but of course I keep finding out about groups I’d never heard of (the latest is the Sunshine Gogos, which apparently has 56 members and is quite a going concern).

Imagine a diagram of all the people in the region, with lines connecting us together through our various groups and affiliations, with colour-coding to indicate all the different categories of activity. It would be mind-boggling — and, even then, it would only convey the most superficial picture of the complexity of the connectedness among folks in the region.

One of the little nodes of connectedness happens on the morning of the second Wednesday of the month in the Trinity Hall at the United Church in Powell River: the Good Food Box packing day. And I call it a minor miracle, because it produces so much positive action and energy with so little overhead.

The Good Food Box is a project that got started just over five years ago out of the PREP Society‘s BOND project, which supports pre- and peri-natal moms and newborns. The group of young moms was looking for a project that would help them provide for their own food needs, and they found the idea of a monthly box of produce, prepaid and reasonably priced. It’s been running since then with only minor changes. Here’s how it works: participants prepay their $12.00 produce box by the third day of the month; payment can be arranged through the Family Place in the Town Centre Mall, Centsibles thrift store on Marine Ave., at the PREP Society office on Marine Ave., or by calling the coordinator Annabelle Tully-Barr at (604) 485-8213.

Annabelle collates the orders and works with the produce department at Save-On Foods, who support the program by offering a hefty discount on the bulk order of produce. Then, on the second Wednesday, the team of volunteers gathers at the United Church to sort, weigh, and pack the produce into boxes and bags. This month, a participant’s $12.00 bought:

  • Five pounds of potatoes;
  • One or two onions, depending on the size;
  • Two pounds of carrots;
  • Four heads of garlic;
  • One head of romaine lettuce;
  • One bunch of green onions;
  • One bunch of radishes;
  • Four “Granny Smith” apples;
  • Three large oranges;
  • One lime;
  • One mango;
  • One bunch of four bananas.

Some families buy more than one Good Food Box, since it is such a good deal. And we know that there is a network of people buying boxes to help family, friends, an neighbours who are needy. So the produce is getting out there and promoting healthy eating and creating social solidarity.

And the activity of packing up the boxes and bags creates another whole network, one that I have been participating in for about three years now. For over a year, we are lucky to have a class from the Powell River Christian School come over and help. It’s always a bit of a madhouse making sure that everything weighs the right amount and is ready at the same time. And meanwhile, there is always a crew of volunteers in the kitchen cooking up some amazing food for lunch.

By about 11:00 we’re ready to start The Run: this is where some volunteers race around the tables set out in a U shape, with other volunteers filling the boxes/bags with the various items of produce. For a few minutes all is chaos, but eventually we’re finished and the floor is lined with neat rows of boxes and bags of produce ready to be picked up and delivered.

By this time, everyone is ready for lunch, so we all sit down together and enjoy a fabulous home-cooked meal. Last week, we had hand-made tortillas with rice, beans, fresh salsa, cheese, and sour cream; cold Asian noodle salad with satay sauce; chicken noodle soup made with local chicken and hand-rolled fresh fettucine noodles; and because it was almost Valentine’s Day, rice krispie squares with candy hearts. Our kitchen crew deserves kudos for stretching a small food budget into delicious and healthy meals (rice krispie squares notwithstanding).

We may only come together for a few hours each month, but we’re a gang of people who enjoy working together. We laugh and share jokes and stories, we share a meaningful task that makes a difference in the community, and best of all we share food. The crew of regular volunteers, led by the tireless Annabelle Tully-Barr, manage to make this initiative hang together from one month to the next, despite chronic lack of funding. Somehow the boxes from one month manage to pay for the little expenses, and we have support from the United Church, the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, and River City Movers. The Good Food Box is a clear example of the many small shoestring operations out there in the region which bring good things into people’s lives with very little fuss and fanfare, and whose disappearance would leave an empty space in these lives. We should do everything we can to help fan these sparks into flame — or at least to keep them glowing until some real kindling comes along.