07/05/2012 10:01 EDT | Updated 09/04/2012 05:12 EDT

B.C. food coupon program 'a drop in the bucket'

A new B.C. government coupon program has been launched to help low income families buy fresh food from farmers' markets, but critics say the initiative does little to help the needy.

The program provides the equivalent of $15 per week for a limited number of low income families and $12 per week for seniors.

"You take one of these, you come to your farmers' market and the vendors here will honour and provide you the best darn fresh produce you're going to find anywhere in the world," said B.C. Health Minister Michael de Jong, who officially launched the program in Surrey Wednesday.

About 800 families across the province — 50 of them in Surrey — are expected to qualify for the $2-million, one-time initiative.

Critics say it’s not nearly enough.

"Bringing forward a program that only addresses the need of 50 families is just a drop in the bucket,” said Sue Hammell, NDP deputy health critic.

Jonquil Holgate, of the Surrey Urban Mission, was also not impressed

"To be pretty honest about it, $15 a week for a family for a family of three or four doesn't suffice the needs of people who are hungry," Holgate said.

De Jong admits the coupon amount is minimal.

"Let's not kid ourselves, $15 is modest assistance, but the other key objective is to reinforce that linkage between people and fresh produce that is grown here in British Columbia."

Diane Groening is a mother of four who relies on the Surrey food bank. "My kids, they don't really experience vegetables on their plate — it's either frozen or non-existent,” Groening said. “You have to use a lot of pasta."

A recent B.C. study shows the cost of healthy eating is $868 a month for a family of four, up about 27 per cent in a decade.

"I spend between $500 and $700 on groceries,” said Groening. “But say three years ago, my cart would be full — now it barely even feeds them for the month."