Our daily bread

It has been said, “No good deed goes unpunished.” I’ve recently seen the wisdom in those words firsthand.

The incident in question occurred last week. I was working for a dollar store chain on Pembina Highway, I had been employed by this store for just over a month.

The first thing that struck me was the strange corporate environment or “atmosfear,” if I may coin a phrase. I discovered, through interaction with other employees, that one could be fired for almost anything. For example, leaving your pay stub behind or misplacing your till key. Many were released for this kind of misdeed in the short time I was there.

My dismissal was for an infraction I was not even aware of. It related to the bread that was thrown out every Sunday — sometimes up to a hundred loaves — which were still reasonably fresh and could be used to feed those less fortunate.

With the agreement and help of other staff, I rescued the bread from the bin and brought it to a Seine River school where I am currently working on my practicum in social work through the University of Manitoba.

The staff at Seine River has instituted a breakfast program for children K-8 who go without. Some of these children also do not bring lunches. So, every Sunday I would retrieve the bread, which expired that day, and donate it to this program.

When the store manager was informed of my actions I was fired, even though I had never been informed of their policy on discarded food. I’ve worked in other grocery outlets and know from experience that the store is not out of pocket for the bread. The bakery either gives the retailer credit, or it is written off as a business loss and recouped at tax time.

Since then I’ve done some research and found that this chain is by no means the only one that is content to let people go hungry. Other corporations routinely throw out huge quantities of food that is not considered appealing enough to be sold. I couldn’t find the figures for Canada, but in the U.S. it is estimated that US$1 billion worth of food is tossed out annually by businesses. Many hide behind liability issues; for others it is simply a policy. The mentality is that “if we give it to someone, they won’t come into our store and buy it.”

Legally speaking, there seems to be a gray area in terms of retrieving items from the trash. What I have discovered is that if the bin is off the property ¬— in the parking lot of a strip mall where the landlord is responsible, for example — it’s fair game. If the tenant owns the property you can be ordered to leave, but must be given a written notice stating that you are not allowed to conduct the activity. You can only be charged if you return.

The whole idea of prosecuting someone for such an act is ludicrous in an age where we’re concerned about overflowing landfills. Soup kitchens and food banks are in desperate need of these items, and you don’t need a degree in public relations to figure out that donating food to charity just makes good sense.

This incident has been another bump on the road to my degree, and the sort of injustice I am going to address when I finish. Had I known it was the store’s policy, to ignore the hungry, I would have worked within the organization to change it.

In any event, if put in the same circumstances, I would do it again.

Vi Hancock is a 48-year-old mature student at the U of M.