Phone call from parish priest sets $1.2-million plan in motion
In the early days of the pandemic, Jean Champagne was enjoying a family dinner when he had an idea for a way to help combat food insecurity in the Beauce region of Quebec.
Food prices were going up and vegetables and fruits were becoming less affordable.
"My wife said, 'we have to do something,'" said the Beauceville resident.
Their daughter Marie was a social worker at the time. She is now the general manager of the food bank Moisson Beauce, and she told them the best way to help was through fresh produce.
The family launched Cultiver pour partager (growing to share) shortly after.
Run by volunteers, the non-profit grows food in the summer and collects vegetables from local farms that would otherwise go to waste — donating its harvest to Moisson Beauce.
Last week in Beauceville, Que., Champagne signed a contract for what will be the organization's new headquarters — an old church — purchased for $1.
When missions converge
Champagne said everything fell perfectly into place.
They had just started looking for a space to store the fresh vegetables in 2021 when Champagne learned about a church up for sale in Saint-Alfred, a small town about 100 kilometres southeast of Quebec City.
"Our priest called me in the morning, [asking] 'Jean do you think that you can need sometime in the future, a building?" he said.
The Sainte-Famille-de-Beauce parish wanted to sell the building, which was built in 1931 and needed some repairs. It was deconsecrated in November 2022.
Champagne said he took it as a spiritual sign. "That's what had to happen, that [was] amazing."
The sales contract includes clauses that the building must be used for activities that align with the Catholic church values.
"Allowing it to be used for just any purpose was out of the question," said Jean-Denys Rancourt, the president of the parish.
Rancourt says these days, many churches are being deconsecrated and sold because there are fewer parishioners.
The Sainte-Famille-de-Beauce parish declined other offers, including from buyers that wanted to transform the church into a garage or a warehouse.
They chose to sell the church to Champagne's organization because of its mission.
"It's really an extraordinary project that gives back to the community," said churchwarden Julie Fortin.
"The church was built by people, by the community," she said. She said letting the church go for a nominal sum was less of an issue than seeing it become stripped of meaning.
Church will store up to 75,000 kg of fresh produce
Cultiver pour partagerplans to build a cold room on one side of the church's nave, which will be rented out to Moisson Beauce and have the capacity to store up to 75,000 kilograms worth of fresh produce.
The other side will become a space to wash and package the food. The altar area will be transformed into a greenhouse. A second, larger greenhouse and a loading bay will be built outside.
WATCH | How the church will be transformed:
See the century-old church that's becoming a food source in the Beauce region
Featured VideoAn old deconsecrated church in the Beauce region is being converted into a space to grow and store fresh vegetables in an effort to fight food insecurity in the area.
Renovations are scheduled to start in November, with the first step being to reinforce the concrete floor so it can sustain the weight of forklifts.
The $1.2-million transformation is funded in part by the provincial government, as well as commercial and private investors.
A creative solution to fight food insecurity
The project will allow Moisson Beauce to double its storage space and distribute fresh produce year-round.
"We have such a high increase in demand that what comes in goes out really, really, really quickly," said Marie Champagne, the food bank's general manager.
"In January and February, there are very few vegetables."
She said having extra capacity to take in produce will also reduce food waste, since a lot of vegetables are left to rot in the fields.
When asked what it's like to work so closely with his daughter, Jean Champagne smiled and said giving back is "a family affair." He says he and his wife, their parents and their children all do a lot of volunteering.
"We want to use our skills to help people," he said. "We were raised like that."
And with so many people struggling to make ends meet right now, he said helping out food banks is crucial.
"There's people that work but at the end of the month, they [still] need help," he said.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Émilie Warren covers regional stories across the province of Quebec for CBC news in Quebec City. She has also worked as an intern reporter for the CBC in Vancouver and the Health Unit, and as an intern producer for World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With files from Radio-Canada’s Philippe Grenier
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca