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Food rescue in Yellowknife

A Lutheran couple makes use of grocery store discards

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ruby and Laurin Trudel help local shelters feed the homeless

YELLOWKNIFE, NWT - Upholding traditional marriage in court. Fighting breast cancer. Search and Rescue. And now, Food Rescue, which has seen 8,544 pounds of food cast off by warehouses, stores and a pizza outlet sorted, chopped, and processed into 6,996 pounds of useable food for those struggling financially in Yellowknife, NWT—in just 38 days of volunteering.

Lutherans Ruby and Laurin Trudel like to keep busy, and since attending a forum in May on homelessness, they believe God has led them to a new project.

Laurin is a retired engineer, now working about two days a week. He volunteers with Search and Rescue. Ruby, a former nurse, recently retired from a job as co-ordinator of the Northwest Territories Breast Health/Breast Cancer Action Group.

They stand up for things they believe in. In 2005, they went to court to defend the traditional definition of marriage when a gay couple pushed to have the NWT government change its laws ahead of the federal government’s bill.

The couple has changed churches because of their beliefs. There is no Lutheran Church–Canada church in Yellowknife, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada church they originally attended supported gay marriage. A new pastor at another church held views they felt were not scripturally supported.

They now attend a community church that is part of the Baptist Union, and maintain their Lutheran membership at First Lutheran in Lloydminster, Alberta where Ruby was baptized and confirmed, and where they were married.

At the homelessness forum, representatives of the Salvation Army, a women’s shelter and a youth drop-in centre told of difficulties because their funding was granted before fuel prices skyrocketed, forcing up the price of food and everything else in Yellowknife.

They also said it was hard to find workers at the low wages they could pay. Yellowknife is both a government and a diamond town, with well-paying jobs in both areas.

Ruby went to the meeting out of curiosity. She didn’t know much about homelessness.

As she listened, Ruby “felt God was putting His hand on my right shoulder, saying ‘You could do something.’”

Yellowknife, even with its cold winters, has a homelessness problem. When someone in outlying regions gets into trouble, they are often given a one-way ticket to Yellowknife.

There’s alcoholism and a growing drug problem. Some live in shelters, others camp in tents in the bush.The shelters have had trouble feeding people because of the increased costs.

Ruby knew that when one grapefruit in a bag spoiled, stores would toss out the whole bag. When new peppers came in, store clerks threw out the old shipment so the product always looked perfect. Packaged product near expiry date couldn’t be sold. It all ended up in landfill!

“From field to fork, North America wastes 50 percent of its product,” says Ruby of the statistics she’s learned.

The Trudels started asking stores for food they were going to throw out. For about the first month, anonymous shipments arrived at their house. The donor simply said, “It’s better you don’t know where it’s coming from.”
That led the couple to pushing the NWT government to pass food donor protection legislation like most other provinces. The legislation basically states that unless the donor (stores, warehouses or volunteers like the Trudels) maliciously intend to make someone sick, they are not liable for donating. The NWT legislation passed October 21—a miraculous speed!

The Trudels, and two other volunteers, pick up food, bring it home, sort produce, and carve out problem spots. They then make applesauce, soup base and a number of other creative solutions from the chopped material and deliver it to shelters, drop-in centres, the food bank, and struggling people they hear about through word of mouth.

Laurin weighs the food as it comes in and goes out. He’s calculated they have an 81.9 percent recovery rate. What they can’t use is composted.
On the first day, they picked up almost 100 kg of food. On Oct. 30, they picked up almost 360 kg—their record so far.

They have no funding, no boards, and little paperwork. But fuel for pick up and delivery is expensive, and they also go through bags and containers.
“God has opened all the doors we needed,” says Ruby. The door for funding hasn’t opened yet, but she observes that she’s learned to be more patient than in the past. “I don’t have to force my way through any of the doors.”

Ruby enthuses about what has become a six-day-a-week, six-hour-per-day labour of love. “I get so excited and energized.”
Sometimes people are less than grateful. Ruby sees a parallel there—

“We’re giving away free food and He (God) gives us grace. How often do we forget to say thank you?”

Through their daily devotions, Ruby and Laurin are finding another way to say thanks to God.

“God gave us a fully sustainable world and look what we’ve done. Food Rescue is a way we can turn that around … in our community,” concludes Ruby. Anyone interested in learning about food rescue for their community can contact the Trudels by e-mail at

by Bonnie Bucholtz, Zion Lutheran, Surrey, B.C.

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