Ten years ago, Brigida Crosbie was homeless and eating out of the dumpster at the back of a KFC restaurant, but now she runs her own meat shop and goes out of her way to feed everyone who comes through her doors.
In 2020, Crosbie started Tydel Foods, a store staffed by volunteers in Chilliwack, a small city 90 kilometres east of Vancouver in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, that sells quality food cheaper than the big box stores. A rib-eye steak, for instance, goes for $8 less than at the supermarket. Striploin is $6 cheaper.
Her volunteers, many of whom became aware of her work through word of mouth or social media, say they signed up to help because they support what she’s doing for the community.
Crosbie’s store is often packed with customers, a sign of the deep need for affordable food as inflation hits record highs. The latest report from Food Banks Canada says the demand for food banks in B.C. increased by 25 per cent from 2021 to 2022, higher than the national average of 15 per cent.
She says she finds it surprising how easily she’s able to sell her meat for less than a large grocery store.
“The big thing in my mind is if I could give this price and I’m just a person off the street that’s just an advocate in the community, then how come the bigger box stores can’t give it at a much lower price?”
WATCH | Brigida Crosbie talks about how she came to open her low-cost meat shop:
Crosbie has programs focused on helping seniors, people with disabilities and those who are homeless.
For seniors, she offers packages containing a selection of meats for $50. On Saturdays, the store offers free soup, stew or chlli.
‘When someone tells me they couldn’t eat, I know exactly how that felt’
Crosbie says she manages to ensure everyone leaves her shop with food.
“When someone tells me they couldn’t eat, I know exactly how that felt, and that’s how I got into meat,” said Crosbie, who says her business philosophy is “people over profit,” and she chose meat because it’s one of the biggest expenses on a food bill.
Crosbie says she started Tydel because she remembers what it’s like to be hungry.
A decade ago, she left an abusive partner, taking her two daughters, Tyanna and Delana. Although Crosbie was employed as a nurse at Fraser Health Authority, the family of three was temporarily homeless.
“You’re sleeping on a concrete pillow, and then you had to eat out of the garbage — that was the worst thing,” she recalled.
Eventually, with help from a friend who loaned her money and her bank, who helped her access emergency funds, Crosbie found an apartment for herself and her daughters in the mid-2010s.
When she retired from Fraser Health in 2020, she decided to open a low-cost food store. She began by googling how to run a business and took out a small loan.
She named the store Tydel, a melding of the names of her two daughters.
Demand for low-cost food
Crosbie says her empathy and past experiences have motivated her to give. She says she also experienced hunger in her childhood. Her father was in prison, and her mother, who died at 49, had substance use issues.
When customers who come into the store can’t afford the prices or don’t have any money, Crosbie says she gives them food for free.
Crosbie says she’s able to turn a small profit because there’s a high demand for low-cost food. She says she sets her prices only marginally higher than her cost, but the high volume of customers manages to keep her in business.
“The need is so high in the community for this price point of affordable food … It’s the turnover of people that come in that helps keeps us afloat,” said Crosbie.
To help offset expenses, she says she uses the optional tips on her debit machine and pays for various expenses from her own pension cheque.
“So long as I meet my lease, that’s all that matters to me.”
Customers say they have come to rely on Tydel as the cost of living goes up.
“If it wasn’t for her, a lot of us wouldn’t eat properly,” said Joann Gianforte, a frequent customer who is in her 70s and spends most of her income on rent.
Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove says he has gone on a number of delivery runs with Crosbie.
“She’s a rock star. She provides an awesome service at awesome prices,” said Popove, who added that some local food processors donate to Tydel Foods.
Popove says there is a need for more organizations like Crosbie’s.
“The government’s got to play a role in it too. They have in the past and continue to do so, but they need to step up.”