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How a Food Rescue Initiative Sprouted from Amma’s Teachings

Donated bagles for the Georgetown food bank
Donated bagels for the Georgetown food bank

Amma Canada’s Toronto ashram has participated in many charitable activities that support the local community. One of those sevas (selfless service activities) focuses on food insecurity. Beginning in 2009, Toronto devotees would gather once a month at the Toronto ashram kitchen to prepare a take-out vegetarian chili to serve at the local Georgetown food bank. Ironically, it is here where the idea to rescue food first became an initiative in 2017.

At that time, we noticed that many nonperishables, including canned, boxed, and packaged food, that were slightly past the "best before" date were being sorted and discarded into waste bins. Since the "best before" date only indicates peak freshness, the food is still usable. Undamaged packaged or canned food is actually safe to use well past this date. Recent statistics reflect that despite growing food insecurity, over 50% of the annual food produced in Canada is wasted. This results in millions of pounds of edible food ending up in landfills, creating greenhouse emissions and economic losses.

In relation to food waste, Amma says, "Any action performed without discrimination is adharma, an unrighteous act. It is a sin. Whatever is wasted due to our lack of care and attention is a sin."

With this simple yet impactful thought serving as an inspiration, the Toronto Food Rescue project began. Our goal is to try to make a small, positive difference by reducing edible food waste, collecting usable food and redirecting it towards food security programs and food banks. The volunteers at the Georgetown food bank were happy to be on board; they sorted the past-dated packaged and canned food, as well as any other excess donations into boxes for us to collect.


A volunteer from Feed Scarborough receives food donations
A volunteer from Feed Scarborough receives food donations

When we connected with one of our charitable partners, St. Felix Centre, (a downtown Toronto agency serving the homeless and marginalized), they gratefully welcomed the donations of slightly expired nonperishables, including soups, canned beans and vegetables, sauces, crackers and pastas. These donations help in the preparation of the large volume of daily meals they serve their guests. It was a win-win solution!

For the next two years, Amma volunteers collected food on a weekly or biweekly basis, and annually transported between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds of edible food to St. Felix Centre.

A volunteer delivers bread
A volunteer delivers bread

In 2020, during the COVID pandemic, St. Felix Centre suspended the pick up of food and consequently, our monthly chili seva was put on hold indefinitely. However, the Georgetown food bank found they were receiving generous donations of bread from Walmart and a local artisan bakery in quantities that exceeded what they could distribute. The staff reached out to Amma Canada to see if we could find places where the bread could go to good use. Again, with Amma’s Grace and only three volunteer drivers, we added bread to the food rescue! The volume of bread donations has only increased! .

We focus on donating to smaller food programs in underserved neighborhoods. Our three-person initiative has grown to include six to seven rotating drivers who assist in transporting the bread, mostly on Saturdays, to 8 to 10 different community food banks. Since 2020, we have redirected over 25,000 pounds of nonperishable food and breads to local food security programs.

Bags of bread for the Daliy Bread food bank
Bags of bread for the Daily Bread food bank

A couple of Amma Canada food rescue volunteers share what it’s like to be a part of this seva:
    "Being part of community-helping-community is a beautiful feeling. For me that feeling of giving, is a joy like no other, it brings Amma directly into the heart."

    "I can say it’s an absolute blessing to see so much food that would have otherwise gone to waste, going to feed hungry people instead. It’s both spiritually and environmentally uplifting!"

    The pastor from one of the downtown food banks stressed, "How wonderful it was receiving such quality bread which they do not receive often."

    Another volunteer at a Sunday food bank drop off was glad to see our bread delivery as they just ran out of all bakery items.

The seva is not without challenges, but Amma makes each pick up and delivery flow. With much gratitude to the efforts of our small group of dedicated volunteer drivers and to our partnership with the Georgetown food bank, we keep edible food away from landfills while helping to feed those in need.

Mahita, Charitable Coordinator - Toronto, ON

Read about Mary Beth's GreenFriends Satsang on 7/21/23 from Amritapuri in the Q3 2023 newsletter >>


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