A “Creative” day at Quest Food Exchange

A 4 minute read written by Scott May 22, 2014

fork and spoon crossing one another sketch

At Yellow Pencil we specialize in online communications for cities. We partner with our municipal clients to help them get great at the web so they can provide better online services, improve processes, and lower cost of operations. Through our work we’ve transformed a number of cities including the City of Surrey, the City of Edmonton, and the City of Red Deer.

But cities aren’t just about the web and digital. They’re also focused on providing great governance and delivering the many projects and programs that improve the quality of life for their citizens. One of the big issues cities are dealing with today is poverty and the many challenges poverty brings. Cities are taking a leadership role, developing programs and partnerships in attempt to address this issue (and others related) collaboratively. For example, Vibrant Communities Canada is a partnership of over 100 cities and communities across Canada working together to reduce poverty.

Some interesting stats about poverty in Canada:

  • In BC we’ve actually seen very little improvement in our poverty situation over the past 30 years
  • Alberta experienced the largest increase in poverty between 2007 & 2009.
  • In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian households, or slightly more than 12%, experienced some level of food insecurity. This amounts to nearly one in eight households, and 3.9 million individuals in Canada, including 1.1 million children (source: Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2011)
  • Surprisingly much of the food grown or produced ends up being thrown away. It’s estimated that between 25-50% of all food produced in North America ends up in a landfill!

While many of us are fortunate enough to not worry about poverty or food availability or the ever-increasing cost of food, for those who do it shapes their lives. Kids who go hungry struggle to learn, parents and families live with the stress that comes with putting something on the table, and the daily struggle to get access to safe and healthy food to survive and live consumes considerable time and effort.

When I joined Yellow Pencil this year, I wanted to make sure that our Creative team continued to do great work, found career satisfaction, and grew our skills. But I also wanted us also to connect with the people and issues that are part of the cities we live and work in and with. With our office in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, we also had a chance to see how the issue of food impacts those who live in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood. So as part of our annual Creative team objectives we planned to volunteer some time. After some research we decided to spend a day with Quest Food Exchange. On Friday, May 9th, our team took a day off work with our clients. 

The Vancouver-based Creative team heading out to volunteer

Quest partners with local wholesalers, supermarkets, and farmers. These partners donate surplus food to Quest programs. The food donated gets sorted and re-distributed to local social service agencies for use in meal programs and also sold in Quest’s not-for-profit grocery markets at low cost. Working closely with local community agencies and groups, those in need receive food credits and can shop in the markets. Quest also provides opportunities for those in need to volunteer time and earn credits that can be used for food. Quest also has a community training kitchen where they provide education about nutrition, shopping practices, menu planning and cooking techniques.

All this has a huge impact. Last year Quest re-distributed over $6 million worth of food that otherwise would have been unnecessarily thrown out.

So what did we do for the day?

When we volunteered we were open to doing whatever was needed. On this day, we ended up spending our day helping with the repackaging of food. Surprisingly much of what is donated has to be re-packaged — sometimes to break down larger portions of food into smaller individual sizes, other times to remove branding from packaging. This is highly manual work, time-consuming, but critical to getting food in the hands of Quest’s clients.

We started the morning in a food kitchen, where we had an orientation on food safety and preparation and donned our aprons and gloves. To begin with we repackaged donated chocolate chips. Like good designers, we quickly came up with a "design system" to improve our speed and effectiveness and plowed through the 20+ boxes in no time.

Later in the day we re-packaged pasta sauces, dried pasta, huge boxes of pizza salami and even wheels of delicious cheese.


Phil and Alaine re-packaging pasta


Sam cutting up pizza salami


Graeme cutting up cheese

We also got a chance to see Quest’s re-distribution activities in-action. From the never-ending stream of trucks making drop-offs, to the constant movement of food and goods donated into and out of their warehouse, their team and volunteers did an amazing job of putting stuff into the hands of their clients quickly and efficiently.


Just a small section of Quest’s ever-shifting distribution warehouse


Trucks making drop offs

Some take-aways from our day at Quest:

  • It’s good to get out as a team. In addition to the great feelings that come from a day of giving in our time, we also had a great day together as a team. I enjoyed getting to spend some time with Graeme, Phil, Alaine, and Sam and to get another perspective on our interests and abilities.
  • Give some of your time. Groups like Quest are always looking for help. Think about where you work, or live and seek out opportunities that align with you company values or the work you do. You can make a difference.
  • Donate to support programs locally in your city that encourage food security. This is an important issue, and one that makes a foundational difference in people’s lives.
  • Buy what you need, avoid waste. We waste a phenomenal amount of food. We can do a lot about this by managing how we consume and limiting our purchasing.

We’re looking forward to doing more volunteer work this year. In fact, I think we’ll challenge some other Vancouver agencies to join us so we can blow through even more tasks. If you’re interested, let me know.