Canucks' food program scores with local charities

Team taps Canucks for Kids Fund to donate more than 20,000 meals per week

Rogers Arena kitchen staff preparing meals for the Salvation Army | Canucks Sport & Entertainment.

COVID-19 health restrictions have severely hampered the business operations of Metro Vancouver’s sports teams, but Canucks Sports & Entertainment is finding part of the solution – in charity and community service.

Since March 10, Vancouver’s NHL franchise has seen its kitchen, hospitality and food services staff idled by the lack of home games at Rogers Arena. But officials have in turn found a two-birds-one-stone solution of sorts: The team is now digging into its Canucks for Kids Fund to create meals for communities in need in the Lower Mainland – while keeping a portion of the team’s hospitality and kitchen staff employed during the economic malaise.

The Canucks are now producing more than 20,000 meals per week – with packages being distributed to the Salvation Army, Strathcona Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside and the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Up to the end of August, the Canucks have used $337,000 from the Canucks for Kids Fund’s COVID relief funding to support the making of the meals, and the team said the total amount is expected to reach $660,000 by year’s end.

Ella Chan, vice-president of hospitality with Canucks Sports & Entertainment, said the program was able to keep many of the team’s food-services staff on payroll – even if an unconfirmed number of employees did lose their jobs when the NHL season was suspended.

“Absolutely, the meals program has had an economic impact, and we have been able to keep a number of people employed at this time to run these programs,” Chan said, confirming that while her department has suffered job loses, things would have “absolutely been worse” without the staff now involved in the initiative.

Chan said the idea of using Canucks’ unused food products – originally intended for fans attending home games at numbers of about 17,000 a night – came right after the NHL suspended – and then eventually cancelled – the rest of the regular season schedule on March 12.

At the time, the Canucks had two upcoming home matches – March 15 against the Winnipeg Jets and March 18 against the Tampa Bay Lightning – that Chan’s team was preparing for. Given that perishable food products were bought a few games in advance, the Canucks suddenly found themselves looking for a solution for the items they ordered to serve almost 40,000 people.

“We would have purchased enough food for the next two games that were anticipated to play here,” Chan said. “And then, suddenly, we had to close the bulidng; so [Canucks owner] Francesco and the Aquilini family said, ‘We had a lot of products and a lot of people in need right now; put it to good use.’ So it started quite spontaneously.”

That initial supply was depleted within weeks, and the Canucks then decided to keep the entire supply chain going, from vendors to chefs and food-preparation staff, by going the charity route.

Canucks officials noted that while the initiative is guaranteed to continue until at least the end of the year, the team is keeping an eye on its resources and operational needs for how things will proceed beyond that point. Depending on when the next NHL season will begin, and whether or not fans will be allowed to attend, the Canucks are hoping to continue to make meals for the needy if the situation allows.

For example, the team’s arrangement to supply prepared meals for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank is through a partnership with Montreal-based La Tablee des Chefs and is dependent on federal Department of Agriculture grants for continuation beyond December. Chan said the team is waiting for confirmation from Montreal – although it is looking “80% to 90%” like the grant initiative will continue.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army and Strathcona Community Centre meals will depend on the Canucks’ continued ability to raise funds with the Kids Fund – something that will also depend on what the next NHL season looks like, although the team does have some options with or without a proper hockey season.

“We are very fortunate and blessed to have a robust online 50-50 program that can continue to raise funds for the community,” said Canucks vice-president of fan and community engagement Chris Brumwell. “We also believe that we are in a position to be able to hold a telethon at some point. We are lucky that we can continue to raise funds, so it gives us confidence that we can support not only our typical beneficiaries, but also this community meal program the best we can.”