Food Waste Part 2/2

Hannes has been transforming our food waste issue into a powerful story of community empowerment, selfless giving and personal transformation for nearly four years now. 

 I’ve seen Hannes each morning while he picks up from our store and we’ve become friends, exchanging stories and getting to know one another. But, embarrassingly, I had never seen his program first hand. That was finally about to change. Hannes, his sous chef Hannah, his volunteers and the tenants who use his program were gracious enough to let me spend a day beside them learning about how it all works - where our food ended up.

Five days a week Hannes arrives just after our morning cull has been completed and we’ve pulled down all the damaged or close dated fresh produce, meats, baked goods and dairy.  As our business fluctuates, each day the offering looks different depending on what items we have on sale price for that week, our volume of business and the season we are in. 

This means that he never knows what he’s walking into. Some days are heavy on donations and others not. One morning it's 75lbs of bruised tomatoes on the vine and the next its eight bunches of over handled, sad kale and 7 close-dated tubs of babaganooj. It’s really all over the place.

It’s a real credit to his industriousness and creativity as a chef that he can manage his program so consistently with such a fluctuation in quantity and variety of ingredients.

On the day we spent with Hannes our donation was, coincidently,on the larger side. (This wasn’t a set up for the camera. Our extremely diligent produce manager had just returned from holiday to find his assistant was not as demanding with his quality check as he would have hoped.) We had an abundance of soft, browning mushrooms, boxes of bruised cauliflower heads and various hard fruits with minor knicks and bruises. 

Immediately upon meeting Hannes in our backroom he started his planning out loud... "Steamed Cauliflower! Mushroom Soup! Chicken Curry!" he planned aloud. It had only been three minutes and the pile of “garbage” in front of us had already started its transformation into something nobler.

From our backroom Hannes packs his own car with the boxes of donation and brings them to his kitchen at the More than A Roof building on Seymour street and Drake just outside of Yaletown. The food is sorted by Hannes, Hannah and their volunteers and preparations begins for service later that evening. 

I’m not half bad in the kitchen and through years of working preparing salads or steaks in various departments in our store, am comfortable with a knife. So, they put me to work breaking down Kale stalks and Cauliflower heads. It seemed like we had just begun when Hannes was showing off nearly completed pots of soup, curry and pork loin schnitzel. The man is efficient. 

This might make him blush but it’s worth noting the change in persona I witnessed on my day with Hannes. On the mornings we see each other in my store, Hannes comes across as a quietly polite philanthropist, humbly accepting whatever donations might have come his way. We’ve even gone to dinner once or twice and the same soft spoken man is usually present at the table.

But in the kitchen, I witnessed something different entirely. I saw a broad shouldered confident kitchen manager, offering direction, encouragement and  boisterous energy. He was direct and assertive with both his assistant Hannah and the volunteers, and he lept into the mornings tasks with vigor and determination. This was a man in his element. 

It’s with the demonstration of the alternative persona that I saw the real value of “Soul Kitchen.” It’s not just about food and nutrition. It’s about building character, teaching skills and creating disciplined contributors. This Chef was putting the same demands onto his volunteers as they might experience in a commercial kitchen, he wasn’t handling them with kid gloves and was in so doing telling them that they were competent and capable of achieving the goals he was setting out for them.  All of this was done in an environment that remained full of encouragement, positivity and a genuine sense of community. 

Now that Chef’s head will no longer fit through the doorframe into his kitchen, I'd better move on...

Once the food was prepped, the soup was loaded onto a kart and we were off for the outreach programs destination at a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) on Granville street largely underserved by other organizations targeting the Downtown East Side(DTES). By the time we arrived at 5:45 there were already some 40-60 people in line waiting for the team of volunteers delivering Soul Kitchen's soup. 

Two things struck me. Firstly was the number of eager people waiting for food. Secondly was how pleasant and kind everyone was to each other in that situation. I’ll be entirely honest, as a retailer in the downtown core where theft is an endemic problem, my relationship with the homeless or drug addicted hasn’t been the most cordial. We’ve been at loggerheads since our doors opened a decade ago. That much conflict has had a numbing effect on me, a fact I’ve grappled with for some time.  But to see so many people I recognized in that lineup in real need and being as greatful as they were, was a meaningfully humanizing experience that I sorely needed. I am certainly a more compassionate man for having shared in this experience. 

To wrap up my day with the team, I was invited for dinner with the more than a roof community that houses Soul Kitchens workspace and constitutes his volunteer base. It was here that I met some 40 people partaking in the meals service, all of whom had varied backgrounds, past careers and incredible hospitality. Of those in attendance, one man spoke an incredible eight languages, another was a forensic accountant in a previous life and another held a passion for photography and hosting parties for loved ones. All around, they were an interesting, warm bunch who seemed to be down on their luck or were dealing with more serious issues than my brief interactions would introduce me too. In short, I was glad BC housing was able to offer these good people a safe place to sleep and services to help them get their lives back on track. They deserved that, and much more.

I think it’s clear that my day With Soul Kitchen was impactful. if this story has spoken to you and you’d like to participate in their good works directly please follow the directions below to donate or get in touch with me through this blog, or with Hannes through his website at

With meaningful plans to expand, all contributions ,whether large or small, would be most welcome. 

It's just too bad he's a Pats fan. 

To donate to the work of Soulkitchen follow these steps:

Click  on the “Donate” button on the top left corner of the page.

2.Using the search option enter “More Than A Roof” as the charity name. This is the registered charity partnering  with Soulkitchen to distribute food.

3.Once “More Than A Roof”appears on the list; click on their name. You will be taken to their profile page.

4.Choose  “Donate to This Charity Now” at the bottom of the screen.

5.Using the drop down menu titled “Apply your donation to specific fund” find ‘Soulkitchen’ on the list and click that option.

6.Follow the payment details.

7.You can choose to receive your tax receipt in a multiple of methods at this time.

Thank you for your gift!


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