Thursday July 22, 2010

Community News


Haven From High Food Prices

Oasis Outreach coming to Chilliwack

Craig Hill/Voice


he cost of food alone these days is enough to make you lose your appetite and each time there's an increase, people on fixed incomes have no choice but to take it on the chin.

But by next March, that's going to all change.

Kelly Fowler, Director of The Oasis Outreach Society (OOS), has his sights set on Chilliwack and wants to open a grocery store downtown that will cater to low-income residents. A food outlet that promises to be an oasis in a desert of expensive alternatives. Sort of like a Costco for people on fixed incomes.

The OOS is based in Langley and Fowler is currently opening a new store on Douglas Crescent there. They aren't funded by any government programs and have to rely on food and cash donations to stay afloat.

Kevin McNeil from Oasis Outreach Society at Party in the Park selling food in order to raise funds to help clients pay bills.

The Society's slogan is "In Canada, no one should go hungry" and when Fowler turned his gaze toward this city and had a look at what was available, the more he looked, the more he saw a need for low priced food.

"I was at Chilliwack Mall selling at Christmas time from November to December and I hadn't really thought of Chilliwack until I started talking to different people that were curious about what we do so I met a lot of people that are involved with the problem in Chilliwack and they were saying it's a huge problem here."

At the moment he's searching for a location in the downtown area and with luck he'll have found the right place and be situated by March but that shouldn't be too difficult due to the high vacancy rate downtown.

"We're a destination store," said Fowler. "You just can't walk in off the street so we don't need walk-by traffic."

The kind of people who'll use his store are the ones who survive on $3/day or less for food. With that paltry amount, they certainly can't get the proper nutrition to lead a healthy lifestyle. Imagine what that buys at the store after it's squeezed by high fuel prices and nice fat union wages and then imagine putting that on a plate three times a day.

Some of last week's news coverage was of politicians in Victoria who are allowed to spend up to $60/day for grits which makes the $20 allocated for a daily breakfast with all the trimmings, equal to about a week's worth of food for the poor.

Fowlers store, which is modeled after the successful Quest Outreach Society in Vancouver will have very reasonable prices. For example, a box of cereal which would retail in the store for much higher, would sell in his store for $1.50 or oranges for 30 a pound.

"That sells for $8 at Costco," he said pointing to a box of cereal on his table. "We'll sell it for a buck-and-a-half and the Thai sauce I've probably sold about 2000 bottles of it in the past year."

Sweet manna from heaven, but wait there's a catch people will have to provide proof of low income before being issued a membership card that allows people to shop there. In order to qualify, the person needs to be receiving social services, handicap pension or some other type of fixed low-income.

Fowler and has been at Party in the Park generating funds by selling food at a slightly higher cost to the public than what it would be sold for in his store. He also sells food at the Abbotsford Flea Market every weekend.

It helps when you know people. Fowler's sons works for a transport company and if there is an accident and the freight is damaged then they are the recipients.

"We're selling food that was donated at a reduced price, for instance, the Fibre 1 cereal, we had a whole skid of 260 pieces donated to us.

Another facet of the OOS is they can help people make ends meet financially for up to three-months and through networking and mutual arrangements, assist them in finding the right type of help for families and individuals.

"We usually don't go that high, it's usually between $100 and $500, we're restricted by our board," said Fowler.

"But in that three-months, we hook them up with proper associations that are going to help them and some people don't even know how to get on welfare," he said adding that "This is what I earn money for, this is what I sell stuff for."

One of the Society's clients had used up his three-month, $100 allotment, which he used to help pay his utility bill. Fowler had heard the guy knew how to design websites, so he worked out a deal to have him design a site for the Society and maintain it in exchange for his monthly allowance.

Another form of help low income people can get Fowler says, is free dental work done through the Abbotsford Salvation Army.

"They don't do crowns and things like that but they do fillings and I think that's wonderful," he said. "My daughter is on handicap pension and she gets all her dental work done there."

He loves his new job since retiring from driving buses and hasn't had much time for himself, but is planning a trip to the Philippines in February and can't wait to get going on the Chilliwack project.


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