Local businesses and service providers are stepping up to supply food to Fraser Lake residents who cannot drive out of town for groceries.
Super Valu, the only grocery store in Fraser Lake, closed on June 18. The closest large-scale locations for Fraser Lake residents to buy groceries are now Vanderhoof, which is 58 km away from Fraser Lake, or Burns Lake, which is 70 km away.
Vanderhoof and Districts Co-op has set up a special e-mail – email@example.com – to take orders from Fraser Lake customers.
“That’s a terrible situation to be in, so we’re doing what we can,” said Dan O’Connor, food manager for the Vanderhoof Co-op.
Orders need to be made by 2 p.m. on Tuesdays; groceries will then be delivered at Fraser Lake’s Royal Canadian Legion on Wednesdays.
“We’re hoping to have the groceries there by 2 p.m.,” said O’Connor.
There will be a charge of $15 for each delivery, of which $5 will be donated to a basketball team in Vanderhoof.
Since this is the first weeks of Co-op’s delivery, O’Connor said it’s too soon to tell if this initiative will be enough to support seniors in town. He said that if the initiative is successful, the Co-op might start offering this service twice a week.
Fraser Lake’s senior support centre Autumn Services also started a food sharing program to help the less-mobile residents in town.
“We have a food crisis,” said Sarrah Storey from Autumn Services. “There are people with low income, seniors, and single moms and dads who can’t get food for their kids.”
However, the food bank-like service is not only for the low-income population, Storey explained.
“We do what we can to support people who have difficulty in getting food for the time being,” she said. “Once our food security issue is resolved, then it would only be for those with low income.
“If you’re going on holiday, you can drop off your half bag of potatoes that you don’t need or can share.”
Drop-off and pick-up takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday to Friday at Autumn Services, and delivered food will be stored on site in a freezer and a fridge donated by the Co-op.
For seniors who would still like to travel for groceries, the Better At Home program hosted by Autumn Services can provide them with transportation to other communities, Storey said.
Fraser Lake Inn’s new owner Paul Dhaliwal plans to add a grocery outlet to his establishment in the next months.
Formerly a pub, the 8,000-square-foot space with cold storage will allow the location to supply groceries such as dairy products to the community, he said.
Dhaliwal’s other plans for the site may also allow him to provide relief for the 18 workers who lost their jobs with the Super Valu’s closure.
On July 1, a restaurant at the inn will be opened for service, depending on approval from the health authority, and 10 rooms have been recently added to the inn’s offerings.
“I will look to hire more people locally first,” Dhaliwal said.
Taking over the business three months ago, he came at first to visit family.
“We say, ‘Why don’t we invest over here, people need it,’” he said. “One thing closes, another thing opens.”
His businesses in B.C. include a restaurant in Abbotsford and liquor stores in Agassiz.
Impact on seniors
For some seniors in Fraser Lake who preferred to be unnamed, the store closure will have more implications than just lack of groceries.
“It will be bad enough not having a grocery store in the summer, but it will be even worse having to drive on the winter roads to buy our groceries,” a senior said. “Property values will plummet and less travellers will stop, lowering the income of the other stores and impact future considerations by all levels of government for grants and help in expanding our community.”
An 85-year-old resident said, “I have never been without a grocery store in my whole life.”
Fraser Lake Mayor Dwayne Lindstrom said Fraser Lake has well over 100 seniors and that many of them don’t drive.
“There’s going to be a gap here until someone gets something going, that’s for sure,” said Lindstrom. “We really appreciate that the Co-op is doing that; they are not trying to take business out of our town; they know that people have to eat.”
Since Fraser Lake does not own the building where Super Valu is currently located, the village does not have a say on what the building will be turned into.
“Our hands are tied,” said Lindstrom. “There are no other buildings in Fraser Lake that could be [turned into] grocery stores.”
Lindstrom said he has spoken with the owner of the building and that the owner is doing the best he can to find a replacement for Super Valu. However, Lindstrom said he doesn’t see a solution right away.
Super Valu’s parent company, Loblaw Companies Limited, said in a statement that Fraser Lake’s Super Valu closed because it had been underperforming.
Fraser Lake resident Michelle Baker told Black Press last month that the prices at Fraser Lake’s Super Valu were high in comparison to grocery stores in neighbouring towns and that this encouraged many people to shop out of town.
– with files from Flavio Nienow, Lakes District News