History of Quest Food Exchange

THE BEGINNING: 1989 – 1992

The humble beginnings of Quest Food Exchange started in 1989, when a youth group from Saint James Anglican Church delivered sandwiches to homeless people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). The public responded positively and the volunteers were inspired to continue their street outreach program. With a clear demand for healthy food in the DTES, Quest volunteers went from handing out sandwiches, to running a soup kitchen under the name “The Quest” in the basement of Saint James Anglican Church located at 303 East Cordova Street.


In 1992, the program known as “The Quest” became incorporated as “Quest Outreach Society”.

By 1995, Quest was serving breakfast Monday through Saturday to 300 – 450 people each day. Lunch or evening dinners were also served six times a week from three locations in the downtown core of Vancouver. Each meal included coffee, juice, dessert, the main course, plus food to take home.

Quest offered free pick-up of discarded newspaper, office paper and cardboard, to provide revenue through recycling. We were also operating children’s programs at six Vancouver Neighbourhood houses, Grandview Elementary School, Crabtree Corner and Sheway. Another program included a daily street-kids outreach at Trade Works on East Powell where 25 to 35 kids received hot lunches.

Food drives and depots were also organized through Vancouver and Burnaby Schools under the name “Bag It For Hunger”. These bags helped add food to the “Food Drive ‘95” which was held in conjunction with Canada Post. On top of all this, every Wednesday, Quest was operating six other food depots in the Vancouver area. Seventeen other lower mainland agencies saw deliveries of bulk food delivered to their doors. A whopping total of 30,000 pounds of bulk food was being delivered!

In 1997, Quest realized there was enough unwanted food available to support our program and many other agencies as well. This allowed us to refocus our vision on becoming the medium between suppliers of unwanted food and Social Service Agencies that could use and distribute it.

Our first annual “Harvest of Hope Food Drive” was held in October of 1999, when 55 groups joined forces (schools, service groups, and businesses) in raising 62,000 pounds of food and almost $5,500.00 in cash donations.

Quest went digital in 2001 when we built a new website with help provided by local graphic artist, Odette Hidalgo, of The Hired Gun, and programming provided by website designer, Veronica Bryan, co-owner of Creatia.

By 2002 thousands of people every month were aided by Quest through our hot sit-down meals and food distribution to more than seventy Social Service Agencies and emergency food hampers for families in need. We have received help from many companies offering their contributions. Employees from BC CTV donated their time and efforts to update our facilities. Central City Mission Foundation contributed $8,400 toward shelving at our distribution centre. We even received a van for distribution needs thanks to an anonymous donor and dealership representative.

In 2003, CKNW Orphans Fund donated $97,000 to Quest! This money was used to purchase food-processing equipment that would help extend the life of perishables, and also reduce waste. Quest began a program that would redistribute excess food from over 100 restaurants, grocery store chains and wholesalers at the 1217 East Georgia distribution centre.

BC Technologies Social Venture Partners (BCT SVP) contributed $35,000 towards a computerized Warehouse Management System to improve logistical systems at Quest’s distribution centre. This initial investment and consulting assistance marks the first project of a planned three-year involvement with Quest.

By 2004, Quest made an official move to the 1217 East Georgia distribution centre location in hopes of fulfilling operational needs independent of Saint James Church. Through grant money, we acquired a meat slicer, a meat grinder, a commercial steam kettle, canning equipment, a commercial grade food scale, and food packaging sealers for the distribution centre and future Quest Community Kitchen. McDonald’s Restaurants also played an important role by donating a commercial juicer for the kitchen.

A great leap for Quest occurred in 2005, when, in the spring, we received funding from the CCF Community Care Foundation and the John Hardie Mitchel Family Foundation to construct a food processing facility.


In 2006, Quest thrived with only ten full-time employees, multiple volunteers and 290 suppliers. With this, we were able to open a new commercial kitchen for Vancouver’s DTES. At this time, we received no government funding; running projects entirely on private donations and foundation grants.

In a partnership with Karyo, we officially changed our name to “Quest Food Exchange.” With our rebranding, we also received a new website and visual identity, new marketing collateral, and delivery truck decals. With that, we were able to launch our new brand while receiving our most prestigious award: the $1 million VanCity Award.

By this time, Quest’s food recovery model was adjusted to focus on not-for-profit grocery markets. With a distribution centre already located at 1217 E Georgia, an accompanying grocery market opened adjacent.

As of April 2008, we had opened our second Quest Food Exchange grocery market at 104th Avenue in Surrey. And, in July, we opened our third not-for-profit grocery market at 346 East Hastings. At this time, we were also able to form a new partnership with Boston Pizza saving their quality unused food.

While it is now closed, in our kitchen at 290 E Hastings, Quest prepared about 900 hot sit-down meals, using the food we distributed. These hot meals were served to homeless and street people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside by our social service agency partners.

In October of 2009, with great thanks to VanCity and its members, Quest has transitioned from our East Georgia distribution centre to our very own building at 2020 Dundas Street. This property is an essential component of our expansion targets and better meets our operational needs.

Primarily, the Dundas site offers a considerably larger area which Quest can devote to its distribution and operational activities. This provides Quest with more than double the amount of space to expand warehousing and food distribution capacity. In addition, the site has two docking bays which increase delivery and distribution efficiency and has surface parking at the rear of the building for Quest’s vehicles.

In July of 2011, Quest’s Hastings location moved three blocks east, occupying a street-front retail space at the brand new United Gospel Mission building.

The Community Kitchen opened at our Dundas location in November of 2012. View video.

In August of 2013, Quest opens its Burnaby/New West Not-For-Profit Grocery Market, bringing its total grocery markets to four! This market is located at 7753 6th Street, near the corner of 6th St. and 12th Ave. in Burnaby, close to the Burnaby-New Westminster border.

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