“These guys have saved my life.”
Mary, 58, doesn’t mince words when she speaks to a class of Grade 7 students at Fisher Park-Summit elementary school, about the impact being part of the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) community has had on her.
She has both physical and mental disabilities. She relies on a scooter to get around outside her house and struggles to do even the most basic chores inside her small, cramped home. Most of the shops along her neighbourhood’s main street are not accessible. In order to buy fresh produce and dairy during the winter months, she has to bang on the window of the local Giant Tiger and ask someone to go up the stairs for her. Sometimes, when money is especially scarce, she makes her way to Dollarama for white bread and cheap tins that can be bought.
Mary’s hands shake. “It’s because of the anxiety medicine,” she explains. “I had an abusive upbringing and some not very nice things have happened to me.”
But Mary smiles and tells the students that she is more than just her past. Indeed, is having a happy and rewarding present, because for the first time in decades she feels that she is part of something special. “I feel like I am contributing,” says Mary. “I have lost more than 60 lbs. I am eating better and socializing more. I have made new friends.”
Mary is both a client (neighbour) of the Parkdale Food Centre and a very committed volunteer.
Although Mary had been receiving monthly stipends of food for as long as she can remember, it wasn’t until she began participating in PFC’s Cooking Workshops, in February 2013, that she reports really beginning to look at food as something that could contribute to her overall wellness.
At the PFC, everyone has access to the services of a Holistic Nutritionist. This winter when Mary underwent surgery for breast cancer she was surrounded by a community that was there to help her through. Her PFC friends delivered food to her home. They bought her cotton clothes after the radiation burned her skin. They gave her money for bus tickets so she didn’t miss any appointments.
Slowly, over time, Mary has shared the stories of her life, the small joys and huge challenges. Often she takes the lead in the kitchen, telling other volunteers what to do and where things are located. Although she almost never leaves her wheelchair, in our eyes she is standing taller.
She is well known to most of us at PFC and we enjoy having her around. She encourages others to get involved and has a quick wit.
“If it weren’t for the PFC I would still be eating every meal sitting alone in my room.”