Community

New venture finds help at Semiahmoo House

Members of Semiahmoo House Society assemble olive oil gift baskets during a shift at Food Folk. - Alex Browne photo
Members of Semiahmoo House Society assemble olive oil gift baskets during a shift at Food Folk.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

The young people assembling cellophane-wrapped packages of gourmet extra virgin and aromatic olive oils from Italy were cheerful and engaged.

With only a few prompts from support workers, they followed an assembly-line process to put together the colourful bottles, straw linings, wood trays and cellophane ready for packing in cardboard boxes at Semiahmoo House Society’s Newton workshop facility.

Frequent smiles confirmed that for the workers – all of whom have grown up with developmental disabilities – this is not just about a paycheque.

For the eight there on a recent morning, it was also about fun and social interaction – they’d gladly given up the opportunity of a field trip for this short work shift.

For South Surrey entrepreneur Glenn Ross, for whose new venture, Food Folk – from Farm To Fork, the packages were being assembled, it was a chance to give back by providing meaningful work to young people involved in the society’s employment training program.

Their needs he understands all too well – his own son, Jason, 25, who was born with Down syndrome, is one of those who benefits from the society’s wide range of  programs in pursuing a full and active life.

“It’s almost impossible for them to find work,” Ross said. “What happens all too often is that companies will take on young people who are challenged for a work-experience placement, but when it comes to an end, they’re always let go.”

Ross is endeavouring to see that this is not the case with his project, part of a quickly evolving business importing high-end European food products direct from producers to consumers, and cutting out the usual middlemen in the supply chain, whose costs usually combine to push prices way up in the Canadian and U.S. markets.

Not only are the young workers benefiting by being paid for their shifts, the society will also receive a 25 per cent share of revenue on all products it assembles and markets, Ross said.

Those being put together as he spoke were destined for a Down Syndrome Research Foundation dinner, while products are also being marketed online and through displays in Chapters bookstores.

The aim is a win all the way around for the society, the workers, the company and consumers, Ross said, adding that he expects value and the quality of the product, to help make it a success for everybody.

“The market value for one of these packages would be between $110 and $120,” he noted. “We’re selling them for $50 – or a single bottle of oil for $7.50, while the market value would be between $15 and $20.”

Plans are for an independent venture, The Witches’ Promise – run by Ross’s wife (and Jason’s mom) Charlene – to also receive a percentage of revenue, ultimately building a fund that can be allocated to needy causes in the community.

“Seeing this all come to fruition is hugely inspiring,” Ross said. “This is just the first phase. As orders come in through the website, they’re going to be the picking and packing operation. We’ll send orders to them electronically for picking and packing and they’ll be paid accordingly.”

To learn more about Semiahmoo House Society, visit www.semi-house-society.com. For more on Food Folk, visit www.foodfolk.net

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