The Regina Food Bank is working toward creating a new food hub in the city’s downtown as a way to expand its services to a more centralized location.
While the project is only in its initial stages, a location has already been chosen. The food bank has entered into an agreement in principle to purchase the former SLGA store at Broad Street and 12th Avenue from the provincial government at “below market value.”
The food hub will be different from any of the existing services offered by the food bank. It draws its inspiration from the concept of a grocery store, but with the items still free for those who need them.
“Folks can come in and actually sort of choose the items in their hampers, as opposed to having a prefabricated hamper delivered to them or available for pickup,” said Regina Food Bank CEO John Bailey.
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In an interview on Monday, Bailey said the intention is for the hub to remain open five days a week — making the food bank one of the first organizations using this service model in Canada to be open for such an extended period of time.
Bailey said the hub will provide people experiencing food insecurity with dignity by allowing them to make choices around what they can eat.
He said it’s also important that the food bank improve access to its services.
“It’s about increasing and improving our footprint in the city,” he said.
Regina Food Bank CEO John Bailey says this new project will help expand the organization’s footprint. (Alexander Quon/CBC)
The food bank has seen increasing demand over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting a jump to nearly 140,000 visits a year from 80,000 a year pre-pandemic.
It has also seen a shift in the demographics that use its services, including a growing number of fully employed people who are just having trouble making ends meet due to inflation.
Bailey said the new centralized location in downtown Regina will better help those who need it the most.
The search for a location required the food bank to take a hard look at the data on who uses its services, he said.
“We didn’t want to go with the assumptions. We didn’t want to go with stigma. We didn’t want to go with sort of gut. We wanted to actually see like what are the numbers showing us in a data-driven way, in terms of what will actually meaningfully improve access to food for folks facing food insecurity,” Bailey said.
Bailey stressed that this new project does not mean an end to the food bank’s existing services at its location on Winnipeg Street.
Instead, this project will serve as an expansion. The new Broad Street location will also provide space to many of the food banks community partners, allowing residents to access more services if they need them.
There are still many more steps before the project launches.
First up is an appearance at City of Regina’s executive committee, where the food bank is looking to secure a lease on an empty lot on 12th Street, right behind the shuttered SLGA store.
The empty lot would be paved and developed to serve as a food hamper drive-thru, allowing for quicker and easier access to those who need it, a report heading to executive committee reads. The food bank is looking to secure a $1 annual lease on the empty lot, tax exemption from the city for both properties and one-time funding of $200,000 for the project.
City staff are recommending council approve the deal.
Additional funding for the project will include a $1-million contribution from corporate partners, $1 million in public fundraising and $1 million from the food bank’s existing funds.
Bailey said that if everything goes to plan, the food bank could start renovations at the Broad Street location in spring 2023 and open to the public 18 months later.