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Save a bear feed the homeless

Business encouraging goodwill for animal and human well being

With a little effort, the community can save a bear and feed the homeless in one fell swoop, says Garden Centre owner Cheryl Hancox, so she's started an initiative to do exactly that.

Since picking fruit off trees is one way to avoid dangerous bear-human conflict - which could lead to a bear's death - wildlife advocates have for years encouraged locals to pick the fruit from their trees and yards.

However Hancox is taking that chore one step further in an effort to feed the local impoverished. She's asking locals to drop by the Garden Centre on Mamquam Road with their fruit, and any extra vegetables from their gardens, and she's bringing the haul into the Squamish Food Bank and the Helping Hands Society.

"The amount of waste out there is ridiculous," she said. "There is such an abundance out there it just seems silly [to waste it]."

Along with business partner Damien Lustic, Cheryl and Karl Hancox took over the Squamish Garden Centre in May, and the trio has over two decades worth of experience with local produce.

"Karl has been running his landscaping business, Jim's Mowing, for several years and he gives a discount to people who mention the Bear Aware Program and want their fruit trees pruned," said Cheryl.

"And, when we opened in May we donated some flats to the Helping Hands Society who grew their own food, plus with the whole movement toward eating locally, the idea for Save a Bear Feed the Homeless just made sense."

Cheryl currently has three vegetable beds that she hopes will contribute to those in need.

"For the sake of two dollars for a vegetable plant you can feed a lot of people," said Cheryl. "We have the winter to get some more beds ready and we are hoping to have at least eight for next season."

Meg Toom, local Bear Aware co-ordinator, said she's happy to hear about Cheryl's initiative.

"We have a lot of trees way out of control and there is just so much available fruit. It is just great what Cheryl is doing and it's so much help when people organize their own fruit picking."

While the number of reported problem bears is much lower this year than last, Toom warns that the fall season means bears are spending 20 hours each day searching for and eating food in preparation for hibernation.

"Domestic fruit seems like a natural food source but it's not because it brings the bears into where we live. And now, with our garbage locked up there is more incentive for the bears to go after the fruit," said Toom.

Bear Aware also co-ordinates local volunteers to pick fruit for residents that cannot harvest their fruit trees themselves. The food is then taken to the, Squamish Food Bank, the Healthy Pregnancy Outreach Program, Castle Rock, the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation House and the Squamish Helping Hands Society.

And with two crisps in the Helping Hands kitchen already made from donated fruits and berries, patrons seem genuinely impressed.

"The food here has been awesome this summer," said Carol a patron and long-time Squamish resident.

Melinda Peters, administrator at the Helping Hands Society, said the community project couldn't have come at a better time.

"As fall approaches our numbers go up and the availability of food goes down and we would love to have anybody bring us fruit and vegetables," said Peters.

Those wishing to donate fruit and vegetables to the Save a Bear Feed the Homeless cause can drop it by the Squamish Garden Centre during store hours.

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