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The Columbia Journal
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Vancouver, British Columbia,
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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Two    April 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Unions Building Community

    Protein for People

    What happens when food banks, the United Fish and Allied Workers Union and canned salmon come together? Thousands of needy people get access to a good source of protein they may otherwise not get, says John Radosevic.

    Since last year, the recently retired president of the Fishermen’s Union has been coordinating a program that gets the surplus of canned salmon from warehouses to food banks across BC.

    “It came to me as sort of a revelation while driving home from a bargaining session,” he said. “Fishermen were negotiating a price for salmon, and the companies were telling us there was an over-supply of canned salmon.”

    Radosevic says he was listening to a radio report claiming that food banks were concerned about the lack of donated protein goods that forces the banks to buy such goods at market prices.

    That was when he decided to approach the food banks to work out a plan to deal with the over-supply of canned salmon and the lack of protein goods at the same time.

    “We partnered with the food banks to buy canned salmon at discount prices from the warehouses,” he said. “It’s shelf-stable, which means it lasts and helps deal with the shortage of protein.”

    Donations to the program are made mainly through the United Way, where people can designate a portion of their donation specifically to Protein For People, as well as through labour and credit unions and from the general public. Radosevic says that in 2003, the year the program was started, over 20,000 cans, at about a dollar each, hit the shelves of food banks across the province.

    But he adds this barely addresses the problem. The Vancouver food bank alone serves over nine thousand people each week. The Surrey bank serves similar numbers, and with growing poverty in rural and resource communities, Radosevic says the demand is increasing.

    But he insists the program will grow to meet the challenge. In two years, he hopes to have 100,000 cans per year going to food banks. He also is considering expanding the program to other canned good such as corned beef.

    “I anticipate an over-supply (of canned salmon) for a long time, especially pink salmon,” Radosevic says. “It’s still not a lot given the number of people needing food banks. BC could probably absorb $1 million worth.”

    He adds that when the program gets that large, it will be able to plug into the national network that food banks have to service major cities across the country.

    “Next to cash, it’s the product of choice,” he says. “Food banks need a lot of protein, and it costs them a lot to get it. What we’re doing is making it affordable.”

    Radosevic also points out the economic benefit of the program as well.

    “We create a market for the canned goods, which creates jobs for cannery workers and lets fishermen get a good price for their fish,” he said. “I think it’s the best source of protein on the planet.

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