Home Blog May 2018 What is a Market Food Bank?

What is a Market Food Bank?

What is a Market Food Bank?
Guest blog provided by Sheryl Darlington at The Compass Food Bank & Outreach Centre

When I first came to volunteer at The Compass it wasn’t what I’d imagined– it far exceeded my expectations in so many ways.

The Compass is set up like a small store that we call “The Market”. The shelves are stocked with a variety of goods, all arranged to replicate the appearance of a traditional retail grocery store. We carry food, personal care items and household goods. Using financial donations, we buy items like fresh milk and eggs, a selection of frozen meat and vegetables, and four types of fresh produce.

Clients are allocated virtual money to spend each month based on their family size. No real money changes hands. They can shop once a week which helps space out the food they receive throughout the month. They shop using a shopping cart, just like in a store, and choose their own items. This helps us provide for different cultural and dietary needs.

While clients wait to shop, they sit at tables, arranged like a coffee shop, and socialize while enjoying beverages and snacks from our kitchen. When it’s their turn to shop, they are introduced to a volunteer who assists them in the Market. The volunteer keeps track of their spending. This interaction gives the volunteer and client a chance to talk and share knowledge, which is enriching for everyone. We all have a chance to get to know each other. This helps build trust which is important to allow understanding of each client’s situation and connect them with resources that can help.

Each product in the Market has a price and a limit to help control stock levels. For example, if we have an abundance of an item it’s free; when an item is low in stock the price might be higher, with a limit of 1. Large families get double the limit of most items.

This approach requires more volunteers than a traditional food bank. Last month over 150 volunteers contributed more than 1400 hours of their time. Still, it’s an approach that is rewarding for both clients and volunteers as deeper human interactions occur and our clients can choose food their families will enjoy.

At the Compass our mission is: “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow”. People come for food and find so much more.

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Hunger Facts



of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)