An international love story for the Parkdale Food Centre

I came to Canada from Australia for love in July 2014 and was getting to know my local area in the weeks after I arrived. As I was reading local news, I came across articles about this local firebrand, Karen Secord, who was saying that we shouldn’t be giving out Kraft Dinner to people because their health was worth more than that. I turned to my (then) boyfriend and said: “What is Kraft Dinner?” and the response was “It’s one lab accident away from being plastic; you don’t want to eat that!”

With that comment, I thought, I’d like to get to know this Karen Secord. I traipsed down to the old location at 89 Stonehurst and the woman with the red hair that I had seen on CTV greeted me with a huge smile. As I was being shown around, there were some people cooking in the small church kitchen. At that point, Karen was distracted (as is often the case!) and took one of the kitchen volunteers with her. I washed my hands and continued chopping onions where the other person had left off – and the rest is history.

Lunch made by Susan at 89 Stonehurst on 25 November 2014

For three months, every Tuesday and Thursday myself and two other volunteers made lunch. Soups, stews, muffins, whatever we had to work with that day – we turned it into something healthy and nutritious for the neighbours. When the time came for PFC’s big move to Rosemount Ave, Karen and (still) boyfriend and I stayed up until midnight the day after Halloween, blaring Michael Jackson and painting the walls that lovely yellow which is officially called “Harvest Gold”.

Sarah Stewart, Louise Fortier and Susan at 89 Stonehurst on 27 November, 2014

Unexpectedly, (now) husband and I moved to Washington D.C in July 2015 and I spent three years working at the Embassy of Canada. During this time, we continued to be monthly donors to PFC, and I thought about the centre a lot, especially when observing the homeless who sleep rough outside the Embassy. I thought a lot about how the services that existed for them in DC were not adequate, and how amazing it would be if they had a place like PFC.

I often look at the neighbours at PFC and think of my own parents who made the journey to Australia in the 1980s. While they have become the definition of a success story – the early years were hard. If a place like PFC had existed, perhaps it would have made it a little easier for them: somewhere where they would have been welcomed, could have shared their food and stories and become more of a part of a community. Parkdale Food Centre has been described as a ‘miracle’ by our neighbours. I don’t think that is hyperbole.

The kitchen on 2 December 2014, 4 days before move in day. What a change!

I’m now very proud to be an employee of PFC, as the Ottawa Food Network Coordinator, helping the 8 other organisations in our network bring the same joy to their communities, as we bring to ours. Together we are collaboratively supporting our members to increase the provision of fresh, healthy food, to bolster local donations to their cause, to change the notion that food-banking should be normal.

My story is an international story of love for PFC but it’s also an illustration of how a person can be at once a volunteer, a donor and an employee. Parkdale Food Centre is a place where we don’t have to fit into a box and where involvement is not tied only to one role.

Today, December 6th 2018, is the 4th year anniversary of that fateful move to Rosemount Ave, and on this occasion, I encourage those in our community to come in and visit! Stop by, have a coffee and talk to your neighbours. I also encourage you to please donate to our cause. We are only as strong as the incredible community of people who support us. At the end of each year it is always challenging to know whether we have enough to keep the lights on. Becoming a monthly donor helps us know what our cash-flow is throughout the year and empowers us to keep on doing the work we’re doing to make our community stronger and healthier, together.

Why do people come to the Parkdale Food Centre?

(From left to right): Rachel Godkin-Jackson, Lindsey Grodesky, Douce Chamukenge, Rebecca McCaffrey (Clinical Preceptor), Marjorie Kort (Clinical Instructor)

For a while we at the Parkdale Food Centre have been wondering, “why do people choose to come to PFC?” Not only that, but also, “what barriers do people actually face in eating healthy?”

These are questions we think about regularly but have had trouble answering in a more objective way.

This past semester, we were privileged to have three nurses from U of Ottawa/ Algonquin College come to the Food Centre to complete a nursing practicum course. The three nurses, Douce Chamukenge, Rachel Godkin-Jackson, Lindsey Grodesky, interviewed our neighbours at the intake desk and worked as volunteers to gather the necessary information.

As part of their final project, they have released a report with their findings. It is worth reading and can be accessed here.

A Kitchen Upgrade

(written by Lynda Hansen)

Where would the Parkdale Food Centre be without our wonderful community partners and supporters?

It was just over 3 years ago that we moved in at 30 Rosemount Avenue, after a fast, frenzied fit-up that transformed a dark, rabbit warren-type space into a bright, welcoming community hub, food bank and kitchen. Never in a million years did we imagine just how busy that kitchen would be! A full time Kitchen Manager, daily breakfast and lunch 3 days per week, weekly cooking workshops, community meals, the list goes on.

With the constant and increasing activity came the need for upgrades, repairs, more equipment. Enter St. Matthias Church. For many years, St Matthias had been hosting community meals, once a month at PFC. In February 2016 the St. Matthias Anglican congregation (Parkdale Ave at the Queensway) merged with All Saints’ Westboro (Anglican).  Many long-time members of All Saints’ Westboro joined in with St. Matthias Community Meals volunteer teams and continue to heartily support this legacy ministry of the former St. Matthias Church. Rev Simone Hurkmans, one of the priests at All Saints’ Westboro, along with the Ven Chris Dunn, Rev Dr Linda Privitera and, formerly, Canon John Wilker-Blakley — have all donned aprons and wielded knives or spatulas during our community meals (so they knew the limitations of our kitchen!). In the fall of 2016, they asked us to submit a proposal for funds from the recent sale of their church on Parkdale Avenue. While it was sad for the congregation to leave the St Matthias Building behind, they were delighted to have a portion of its sale price returned to the community in support  of PFC.

**Fast forward to 2018, past all the boring research and requests for quotes**

The Parkdale Food Centre is now the proud owner of a fire suppression system (that we hope to never use!), and a super-efficient dish pit complete with a new-used low temperature dishwashing machine boasting a 60 second cycle, with a new rinse sink and clean tabling. Thank you St Matthias!

But it doesn’t stop there. Without a doubt, it would not have been possible without our long-time supporter, Archer Environmental. They are patient, generous, and always willing to help us out. Our new dishwashing machine was donated and installed at no cost. And if you think that was easy, think again. Installing a new dishwasher also meant we needed the rinse sink and tabling to attach to it. Chef Pat Garland to the rescue! As soon as he saw what we were up to, he offered some tabling from his own busy restaurant kitchen. “I’m going to renovate soon anyway”. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Thank you, Chef Pat!

To make the tabling fit, we had the great good fortune to find Blanchfield
Commercial Kitchens. They were able to pick up the tabling, cut it to suit, and bring it back to us; again, at no cost. We are so lucky! Thank you, Blanchfield!

We also have some great trades and suppliers that made the implementation of these upgrades look easy. Thank you, Gloucester Electric, Fullarton Plumbing, Shields Mechanical, Andersen Fire, Chubb Edwards, and Russell Hendrix for your great work and professionalism.

Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation go out to the St. Matthias congregation for the funds to support these fantastic upgrades. We are so grateful for this help to make our community kitchen more efficient, not to mention safer.

More than a Food Centre

Parkdale is more than a Food Centre and most everyone knows that, but every once in a while you get reminded of that when something happens outside of what is a “normal day” at PFC. Today was one of those days  

We were cleaning up after Collective Kitchen, washing dishes by hand because the dishwasher had broken down. But hey we had a little “dishwashing work bee” happening with many hands and dish cloths and towels making light work of that not so envious task.  A new face appeared at the door – a face of a young person scared, alone, crying, hungry and afraid that the world had lost sight of her.  One of the regular neighbours quickly rallied around her and someone got Karen – who whisked her to a private office to provide comfort and reassure her that she was not alone that there was help that the world hadn’t forgot about her.  

We put the kettle on and made tea.  Lunch was reheated for our new neighbour who hadn’t eaten a proper meal in almost 48 hours.  She quickly gobbled everything up and drank down her tea with hands cupped around the heat of the mug. Lots of crying, sobbing, hugs, more crying, talking and then a few smiles happened.  Forms were filled out so she could seek assistance from the Health Centre located upstairs. Food was gathered into bags for her to take home and in those bags was more tea. Those bags of food, a cup of tea, a hot meal, some friendly reassurances, new friendships, and the appointment and resource assistance with the Health Centre reminded me of the comfort and hope that can and does happen each day at PFC.

What is Growing Futures?

Growing Futures is a response to an increasingly uncertain world.

We are a social enterprise geared towards promoting food and financial literacy in children and youth, so they have a better chance at living healthy and fulfilling lives. We aim to foster a more physically and financially resilient next generation by teaching children and youth the importance of good food, how to grow it, and the basics of running their own business.

Participants develop these critical skills by using hydroponic growing systems to create small market gardens. Through Growing Futures, groups of youth (Harvesters) partner with local businesses (Business Partners), who provide mentorship and a customer base. The leafy greens and herbs grown are also sold to individuals, which increases community access to affordable healthy food.

Growing Futures is a social enterprise created and delivered by the Parkdale Food Centre. The project has sparked the imaginations of schoolchildren, university students, and community members.

It encompasses many people’s stories because we work with such diverse groups and would not have as much impact on their lives if we didn’t bring all those groups together.

We Have Stories to Tell

Let us tell the story of a young man whose experience as a Harvester gave him the pride and confidence to become a peer mentor to other people struggling with addictions. Let us tell you the story of a teenage boy who became passionate about helping people in his community. Let us tell you our story, and by doing so, show how healthy food can be a powerful way to unite people.

Growing Futures’ story is important to tell because people need to hear what we’re doing and the kind of impact we’ve had in Ottawa. Our story is important to tell because it reminds us all why we do what we do when we have difficult days. Our story is important to tell because it reminds us how important our work is, as a sector, and how powerful food can be.

Indeed, everything Growing Futures does is designed to empower our youth and the community at large to develop the skills they will need to thrive in a changing economy. We empower our participants in body, mind, and soul; our produce powers participants’ bodies, our programming powers their minds to dream bigger dreams, and our community powers their souls.

Dear Neighbours: A Request from Anne

The following is a real letter from Anne Heffernan (a volunteer at the Parkdale Food Centre) to the other residents of her condo.

 

Hello,

 You have probably heard that Loblaws is offering eligible customers a $25 gift card after it was discovered that customers had been overcharged for bread products over the past several years.  Much of the media has been encouraging folks to donate their cards to their local food banks, if they don’t need the card themselves.  If this is something one would like to do, the process is very simple. You can fill out the form on their website by clicking here and donate your card whenever you receive it.  It’s very easy and just takes a few minuted to do.  Loblaws will mail it to you directly.  This rebate is not limited to a household but to individuals.

The Parkdale Food Centre is our neighbour at 30 Rosemount Avenue.  I am one of their volunteers.  The PFC spends close to $10,000 on groceries every month.  A significant portion of this food is purchased at the the Real Canadian Superstore.

As good neighbours, I’d like to encourage all our residents who qualify, to apply for this credit and consider donating it to the PFC.  I’m willing to co-ordinate this effort by collecting the cards.  They could be placed in the same envelope and slipped under my door.

 I believe that we really love our neighbourhood and like to support our local businesses.  I feel it is also important to support our neighbours through our volunteer efforts.  This is a very simple way to do that.

 Would it be possible to forward my email to all our residents and also post it on our notice boards?

Sincerely,

Anne Heffernan

2017 in Review

Did you miss what we were up to in 2017?

Here are some highlights from 2017 (made possible by generous friends and donors)

*Growing Futures impacted 100’s of children, educators and businesses across the city by teaching food and financial literacy, entrepreneurship and community building.
www.growingfutures.ca

*We offered part-time steady employment to five neighbours and 3 youth.

*We provided supervised school placements to four post-secondary students interested in food justice.

*We introduced 24 low income youth to entrepreneurship through 13SocEnt.
www.13socent.ca

*We were honoured to be selected to receive both the United Way Community Builder of the Year “From Poverty to Possibility” Award, and the Canadian Volunteer Award for Social Innovation in Ontario.

*We hosted over 80 cooking workshops with a wide variety of Ottawa chefs, home cooks and neighbours leading them.

*We helped our neighbours find housing, dental care, furniture, clothing, veterinary care and so much more!

*Dozens of groups from government departments chose preparing food for their neighbours in PFC’s kitchen as a team-building exercise. We happily distributed the fresh food to those in need.

*We cooked two meals each week for the children in SWCHC’s after school program and one hearty snack for the “Place to Be” drop in.

*With the help of St. Lawrence Employment Centre we found a job for anyone who asked for help.

*To address concern that the Chinese Senior’s lunch might be cancelled we offered to provide the ingredients needed to ensure a healthy meal and social outing could be provided.

*PFC became a weekly stop for Market Mobile. Now everyone has regular access to fresh food at wholesale prices. Our staff and volunteers helped to make this possible.

*By offering our neighbours as many fruits and vegetables as they need we distributed over 250 boxes of bananas, 150 boxes of apples, about 1,500 bags
of potatoes, and 150 boxes of oranges.

…and there is so much more!

In 2018 we will be working with Youth Now Farm to offer more young adults, with barriers to employment, the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to find and retain a job. We are also excited to have been granted funds to hire an employee to help the organizations in the Community Food Network to better address issues around food justice.

Thank you for helping us create a warm, healthy community hub where everyone is welcomed and valued.

Come visit us in 2018. We’d love to show you around!

Happy New Year!

How do you get kids to care about food and health problems in their neighbourhood?

Since the beginning of 2017, the Parkdale Food Centre has been offering (funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation) a food justice program for children in grades 4-6.

The goals of the program are to:

  1. Inspire students to understand the complex and interconnected problems of poverty, health and food insecurity in their neighbourhood.
  2. Engage students in understanding the problems being addressed by inviting them to bring forth their own ideas and opinions.
  3. Equip students to be “solutionaries” in their communities by providing entry points for action.

The program has seen great success and has attracted interest from all over the city. Some children who attend the program have become regular volunteers at the food centre and have a better awareness of how they can contribute to solving problems in their communities.

Read the full report here.

What do you see in this photo?

What do you see when you look at this photo? Bowls of steaming Salmon Chowder? Lunch? The hands of a child? Clean kitchen counters?  

When I see this photo I see #kindness and #caring – specifically the hands of #kindness and #caring.  

 

These hands belong to a young person who came to the Parkdale Food Centre to volunteer for a day during his School Holiday break.  He loves to cook, he idolizes Simon Bell the Kitchen Manager at Parkdale Food Centre, he loves to learn new things – like how to make biscuits or how to plate and present delicious meals to the many neighbours who need a hot meal on a very cold Ottawa day.  

On this very cold day he walked to and from the Parkdale Food Centre to volunteer his help because he cares and has a heart full of kindness towards the neighbours in his Community. He could have easily stayed home to play video games, watch TV or just hang out with his friends.  Instead he wanted to volunteer at Parkdale Food Centre and be part of a team in the kitchen giving back to the community.  He was there on Wednesday during one of the weekly Collective Kitchen workshops where neighbours gather and learn how to make delicious wholesome foods.  I was making Salmon Chowder and he helped me washing mounds of celery, and then peeling and cleaning big bowls of potatoes and carrots. He worked with Simon to produce the most delicious light and fluffy biscuits for lunch.  And after serving and sharing lunch with the neighbours he went back to peeling and cleaning carrots and potatoes.  That is what #kindness and #caring is all about.  That is what giving back to your community is all about.  That is why I was attracted to the Parkdale Food Centre – it’s because of the #kindness and #caring that is a big part of the everyday activities at Parkdale Food Centre.  

I started out supporting Parkdale Food Centre by donating money to the Thirteen Social Enterprise for their bus tickets; then I became part of the Thirteen Social Enterprise team preparing their weekly lunches and often taking them to the Markets to sell their products. All the while being exposed to how much Parkdale Food Centre does for their community; so it was just a natural decision to become a monthly donor.  Now I also help out every Wednesday with kitchen work and sometimes I help teach neighbours new skills.   

Don’t get me wrong, sure I am helping Parkdale Food Centre both financially and by volunteering in the kitchen, but this organization has given me back so much more.  I have a sense of community once again – something that I lost after I retired from a busy job as an Executive in the Government of Canada.  From the very first time I became involved with Parkdale Food Centre I felt this sense of being part of a larger community that gives back and does so much for their neighbours who, for whatever the reason, need extra support.  The #kindness and #caring atmosphere that I’m exposed to every time I enter Parkdale Food Centre makes me happy – I’m happy to know that my financial donations are turned around back to the local community to make the lives of the neighbours better. I’m happy that Parkdale Food Centre has provided an environment that encourages youth to be part of the community of giving back. The Youth today will be our future leaders and future organizers at Food Centres like Parkdale – I know that my financial contributions to Parkdale will ensure that the Youth continue to be involved and that the neighbours who need that little bit of extra support can continue to receive it.

I’m oh so happy to be part of this community of #kindness and #caring.  

Article by Deb Abbott.

This report keeps us up at night

Our friends at Somerset West Community Health just released a report on Rooming Houses in Ottawa. The statistics are shocking:

  • 70% of rooming house residents use food banks
  • 82% of residents report bed bugs
  • residents report issues with pests, lack of garbage removal, aggression from landlords, substance abuse problems and more

Our catchment area contains 13 rooming houses which means that a lot of our neighbours are suffering.

Read the whole report here.