Support the Food Industry with YYC Food Security Fund

In response to the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the hospitality industry, a new Calgary fund is creating opportunities for local restaurants and food producers to weather the financial storm facing Alberta’s food ecosystem. YYC Food Security Fund is a new concept supported by the Place2Give Foundation, which creates a buffer for the food industry by purchasing locally sourced and produced foodstuffs at fair market value, and employing industry workers that have been laid off. This week, we spoke to Zai Mamdani, founder of YYC Food Security Fund, to learn more!

Zai Mamdani, founder of YYC Food Security Fund
Zai Mamdani, founder of YYC Food Security Fund

What is your organization called and what problem does it aim to solve?

The YYC Food Security Fund is a unique philanthropic program with a focus on the upstream side of the food system. While there are numerous organizations in Calgary and area providing food hampers, our focus remains on understanding the challenges and impact faced within the food system by farmers, producers, suppliers and the YYC hospitality industry prior to food even getting to the hampers. These are difficult times and the need is great to support the entire food system for sustainability.

With this particular campaign, the presenting problem we are addressing is the economic insecurity facing Calgary’s hospitality industry. While our collaborating partner, The Leftovers Foundation, is able to rescue and re-distribute food, we assist with supporting the rest of the hospitality industry in terms of facilitating storage, delivery drivers and food audit through employing individuals in the hospitality industry that have been economically impacted with our current environment by provided paid employment as opposed to seeking volunteer support.

There is a perception that Calgary has a food scarcity problem with the number of people accessing food hamper programs. This problem is layered. It has to do with the industrialization of poverty creating a dependence on a food bank system to ensure people at the lower end of the economic spectrum have access to food at no cost. Poor policies and the implementation of the policies around how we care for those who are living on the margins (AISH, living wage vs. minimum wage, etc) is another issue. In addition, regulation and support provision for smaller local producers (family farms, small processors, etc) to be able to scale and get their products to market; and how we support those businesses, many of whom are family-owned and are upstream from the food hamper distribution system.

When did you start/join it?

YYC Food Security Fund launched on Dec.15, 2020 – YYC Food Fund is held at the Place2Give Foundation (est. 2012)

What made you want to get involved?

We saw a need and an opportunity to address the need.

What was the situation like when you started?

According to Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB, by the end of Q1 2021 Calgary’s hospitality industry will have shrunk by 25%. This means that there will be less businesses buying food from local producers which has a ripple effect all the way up the food supply chain directly affecting family-owned businesses and family farms which are already under a lot of strain due to poor policies implemented at both the provincial and federal levels of government. Less purchasing power and ultimately less financial resources means that there will be less donors that can redistribute food and capital resources to those charities who are supporting those most food insecurity members of our community.

In addition, according to research conducted by Karma & Cents in September 2020, as a direct result of government grants, philanthropic initiatives and lack of communication and coordinate in the Calgary area there were over 400 agencies that were delivering food hampers. The majority of these agencies were not in the food redistribution space before COVID. The justification presented by some of the areas larger public funders is that agencies were seeking ways to stay connected with their clients and hampers were a direct way that they could keep in touch. Unfortunately what has transpired is a food system that is heavily weighted on a food bank/free food hamper solution and not one that is actually addressing the underlying issues of why these families and individuals ended up in these situations. This has now created an artificial donor-driven market-place around free food and not an integrated market solution where the distribution of food should be considered as a spectrum from the upstream food producers, suppliers etc all the way down to the hamper delivery.

Lastly, up to the start of COVID for every dollar invested in mainstreet (local) businesses in Calgary, it netted out $6 in economic benefit through follow-along capital investments, purchasing power of the employers and employees, increased tax base, etc. With the hospitality industry shrinkage that is anticipated the overall economic health of our city is going to be impacted because you will have less money flowing into those mainstreet/local businesses. With every dollar invested into this particular initiative we anticipate a return of $5.87 back into the local economy, resulting in over $47,000 in economic stimulation.

How has it changed since?

In our first week, YYC Food Security Fund has financed six new jobs created at The Leftovers Foundation. In the long run, the goal would be to have these employees transition back into the hospitality industry.

What more needs to be done?

In the short turn we need to make sure that the businesses within Calgary’s hospitality industry and their employees are taken care of. This means we need to find ways to keep people employed, capitalize on underutilized kitchens and banquet halls and pay equitably for food that is going to be redistributed. If we have a rush to zero (Free Food) then ultimately those who are upstream are going to be bearing the brunt of the burden when right now they cannot afford to do so.

How can our readers help?

1. Donate cash, securities!

2. Have a business that wants to sponsor? Contact

3. Are you in the hospitality industry and in need of work? Reach out to Leftovers Foundation about the new positions that this fund has created –

How funds will be used:

1. Create jobs/re-employ hospitality industry folks who have been laid off or seen their hours significantly reduced

2. Increase the purchasing power of food-based charities to pay fair market value for locally sourced products

3. Raise awareness on the upstream affects of Calgary’s food insecurity system

4. Get underutilized hospitality space activated to move the dial on creating a new more equitable and dignified food system in Calgary

Donations to the YYC Food Security Fund will be matched by Zai Mamdani.