‘It’s pretty disheartening’: Mustard Seed forced to close, throw out food after fire

'It's pretty disheartening': Mustard Seed forced to close, throw out food after fire
The Mustard Seed food bank building on Queens Avenue in Victoria is seen damaged by fire. Monday, March 27, 2023.

Victoria’s Mustard Seed food bank is closed Monday and for the foreseeable future due to a fire.

The food bank at 625 Queens Ave. hands out hot meals and food hampers from its hospitality area, but development director Colleen Sparks says extensive smoke damage from an early-morning fire has forced staff to start off the workweek by ceasing operations.

“We can’t serve anybody today,” Sparks told CHEK News.

“Obviously, we’ve called our insurer, and we’ve called a restoration company to come in and do what they can. We’re just waiting for a hygienist to tell us if any of the food in the building can be given out. They’ve already told us not to give out things loosely packaged.”

The food bank’s executive director Rev. Stephen Bell calls it a “pretty disheartening” situation.

“It does seem if the food was left out in the open, it will have to be thrown away because of the smoke connection to it,” Bell said in an interview.

The Mustard Seed credits itself as the largest food bank on Vancouver Island, handing out 3,000 hot meals and 1,200 food hampers each month. Today’s closure means people miss out on at least a day’s worth of vegetables, dairy, nonperishable food items and hygiene products.

“The most important part is to get up and operating again. There have been small fires outside of the building before, but I don’t think anything to this extent,” said Sparks.

She says crews had already extinguished the fire when she arrived at work around 7:20 a.m. The blaze was outside the front entrance, which leads to the hospitality and chapel areas, and Victoria Fire Chief Dan Atkinson says there was also cosmetic damage along with the smoke.

“To my understanding, it’s cosmetic damage. It didn’t get into the structure,” Atkinson told CHEK News, noting crews got the call at 6:21 a.m. and the fire was out 10 minutes later.

“The cause is still under investigation at this time,” he said. “All indications are that the fire started on the exterior of the building and then spread to the interior, but that exact ignition source remains under investigation.”

Video footage captured by CHEK News Monday afternoon shows the building’s exterior covered in black soot and a window smashed.

“There was a lot of damage done to the outside, to our door, and then into our building where there’s a lot — and I do mean a lot — of smoke damage that’s taken place all throughout our building,” said Bell. “Probably a lot of walls and floors will need to be replaced.”

Now, it’s unclear when the food bank will return to its normal operations. Both Sparks and Bell say updates will be posted to their website and social media pages, with plans for an alternative way to distribute food in the works.

“We’re hoping to set up a food distribution method in our parking lot, but that’s still to be determined,” explained Sparks. “Obviously, once they run tests inside the building and have a sense of the extent of the damage, then we’ll know what our plan is for reopening.”

While any in-person food and clothing donations are currently being turned away, there are other ways people can help out. 

“The building is not a place we can bring anything into, it’s smokey and may not be safe. If anyone is interested and wants to help out, they can (make monetary donations) on our website. We appreciate all the support from the community on an ongoing basis,” added Sparks.

Victoria police are investigating the fire, and Bell says no one was injured.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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