FORT ST. JOHN, B.C – The Northern Environmental Action Team’s NOURISH program repurposed 22,306 pounds of food from local grocery stores this year.

Operating out of the FSJ Salvation Army kitchen, the program takes unsold food that would otherwise be sent to the landfill and uses it to make fresh and frozen meals for residents in the community.

“NOURISH is just starting to hit its stride. It’s a really dynamic partnership between the Salvation Army and NEAT. It connects people with food resources that are already in our community that would otherwise be going to waste,” NEAT’S Executive Director, Karen Mason-Bennett, said.

“That in itself has saved tens of thousands of pounds of food from the landfill and has also ensured that people in our community are getting what they need. It’s a privilege as an organization to be able to be a part of something like that,” Mason-Bennett remarked.

NEAT’s Meals on Wheels program members have also been busy this year. The program has gained 33 new clients since the organization took it over from Northern Health last November.

“We started with about 14 clients last November, and we peaked at about 47 [this year]. So it’s been growing by leaps and bounds the entire time we’ve had it,” Mason-Bennet said.

The organization launched the Peace Region Food Hub earlier this year, which aims to help small and medium-sized food producers in the Peace region to widen their market channels.

NEAT’s Fireweed Market also introduced an online shopping portal back in November.

Mason-Bennett says her team has been the driving force behind the organization’s success in the past year.

“We have a diverse and dynamic group of people that are really dedicated to providing high-quality programming in our community. Sometimes it means that we’re ensuring that people have food available to them, sometimes it means that we’re bringing [that food to] them, or even exploring the forest and ensuring that kids have a relationship with nature that beyond walking to the park,” Mason- Bennett said.

“We’re really privileged and blessed to be able to chart our own course in a way and to have the relationship with the community that we have,” Mason-Bennett continued.

While the organization has seen numerous successes this year, Mason-Bennett says they haven’t been without challenges as well.

“As much as we have a really great team, being able to maintain that relationship internally between everybody has been very challenging this year. We have people working from home, we have people working from the office, we have people working out of completely separate areas. And as we’ve grown our programming, we’ve also grown our staff,” Mason-Bennett explains.

“Being able to maintain a positive culture in the organization has been a challenge in light of the fact that we can’t always get together and we’re not always in the same space,”

Like numerous other non-profits, another issue NEAT has been facing is cash flow.

“We still have some financial concerns and some financial challenges ahead of us. We are doing much, much better than we were a year or two ago. But we haven’t gone completely over that hill either,” Mason Bennett explained.

“Just making sure that our programs are well funded, and our staff are well cared for, I think are the two biggest challenges that we face as an organization right now,” Mason-Bennett said.

Looking into the new year, NEAT hopes to improve its financial forecast, as well as streamline its communication with the community.