A large shipment of P.E.I. potatoes is being put to use this week in Montreal to help feed those in need, thanks to the donation of a Quebec man who heard about the U.S. export ban and wanted to help.
Mac Watson, who lives in Montreal and grew up in a farming community outside the city, has been a supporter of Montreal’s Welcome Hall Mission for years. The group works to feed and support the city’s most vulnerable citizens.
Watson said when he heard about the U.S. export ban on Island potatoes, and the inventory that could go to waste as a result, he came up with a plan to purchase some directly from P.E.I., and ship them to Montreal.
“I just thought it was a win-win situation,” said Watson, who gifted the Welcome Hall Mission with $15,000 worth of shares, in order to purchase 27,000 kilograms of potatoes and have them hauled to Montreal.
“The Welcome Hall gets the potatoes to feed the needy instead of the potatoes being destroyed.”
‘Don’t like to see food put in a landfill’
To make it happen, Watson reached out to Welcome Hall Mission to make a plan, and then to a friend of his with P.E.I. roots: former senator Mike Duffy, who helped connect him with the P.E.I. Potato Board, which helped make the arrangements for transport.
For the Welcome Hall Mission, the donation is unique as it helps not just their clients but Island farmers, too.
“We don’t like to see farmers not get compensated for the work they’ve done, and we certainly don’t like to see food put in a landfill,” said Sam Watts, CEO of the group.
Watts said the donated potatoes will be distributed to both the hot meal program, which serves 1,200 meals a day, and its free grocery stores — which are used by more than 2,500 people weekly.
“I’m under no illusion that we’ve solved the potato problem — one truckload of potatoes is small potatoes,” said Watts.
“But at least it’s an effort. And what we’re hoping, and I think what our donor is hoping as well, is that this gives other people the inspiration that they’ll need to do similar actions.”
It’s what Watson would like to see. He said the donation made the front page of the Montreal Gazette this week, and he’s hopeful with that kind of attention on the export ban, others across Canada might step up and make plans of their own to help Island farmers.
“I have got a couple of friends that have already called me and said they want to do something like this,” said Watson.
“So maybe we’ll get a few hundred tractor loads coming out of P.E.I. — let’s hope so anyway. It shows the government they don’t have to do everything; we can do our share.”