Boiled Potatoes and the Quest For Hope

Portrait of Karen Secord Parkdale Food Centre ED

By Karen Secord

Earlier this month a mother of four told me that she had been feeding her children boiled potatoes because that’s all the food she had. Her income had gone to rent and utilities. Her youngest child was ill and she received a bill from CHEO for services and medication. Her anxiety level was high yet she spoke proudly about how wonderful and understanding her children are.

I wish I could say that these conversations are unusual or that the number of them were decreasing.

When I volunteered in Central America I learned to identify the signs of malnutrition in children;  bloated bellies, listless bodies, blank stares, stunted growth. The government doled out a fortified powder produced by Nestle a mega giant in the food industry whose unethical behaviours are well documented. I could argue that it was a corrupt government and greedy industry’s way of doing the minimum to keep people  alive without any consideration for the human spirit, their land, and their culture.

Back home in Ottawa I’ve often agonized over the malnutrition that is lurking in our schools, woven into neighbourhoods, in haphazardly appointed “family shelters” that offer  inadequate cooking and food storage facilities, in rental housing that is unaffordable for families or unlivable, and the insidious effects it’s having on growing young brains and bodies. 

Last week we dropped off boxes and garbage bags to a young couple, both with serious health issues, who report an extreme infestation of cockroaches in their studio apartment. Even an everyday task such as making a cup of tea has become an ordeal when they must first check the kettle, the cup, and the cupboard for bugs.

My first reaction (and maybe yours too) was to advise them to move. The eternal optimist, I scoured online ads for apartment rentals and they diligently followed up. Sadly, when you are disabled and young there aren’t many landlords who are willing to rent a well maintained place to you. 

Our grocery program isn’t open on Friday’s because we offer a free produce market on that day every week instead. However, last Friday I had offered to bring some food to a mother of three from the south end of the city who was housebound with Covid. We’ve stopped asking the question about why people need food. It’s an irrelevant question. If a parent is asking for food to feed their children, why would we need them to prove they qualify for it or prove that they are deserving?

Charlotte on camera for Sitting at the Table A human Right to Food, film created by Parkdale

I have listened, over and over again, to Charlotte Smith speak about this in our video Sitting At The Table – A Human Right To Food. Truthfully, I’ve felt ashamed by how long it is taking to dismantle the dysfunctional food banking system and to create something that is built around love and care, love and care for the environment and for each other. I have no doubt that powerful forces are pushing the system towards the unhealthy impacts we are all experiencing in one way or another. But I also know that together, as a community of Neighbours who care for each other, we can be the change we want to see.

So on June 1, Parkdale Food Centre began what will be a series of neighbourhood experiments. With the help of the Ottawa Mosque, Merry Dairy and a few very adventurous friends, we held a community dinner party in the parking lot at 30 Rosemount. It was the launch of a “neighbouring campaign”, designed to see whether if we set the table and invited people to dine with people they didn’t know we could help build a bridge to understanding. We plated and served 150 meals.

Chefs in the kitchen

Diners clapped to welcome a brother and sister from the Ukraine who were celebrating their first week in Canada. Neighbours from Salus sat with retirees who accepted our invitation while they were on an evening walk. Seniors from an Ottawa Community Housing  building were served their meals by children who took great pride in delivering the plates with no (or little) spillage! An impressive number of PFC staff arrived on a Sunday evening to enjoy good food among new friends.

On Monday, June 2, we were tired but hopeful. 

On Wednesday, July 20, from 5-7pm in conjunction with the Parkdale Night Market we will be hosting our second “Welcome to Dinner, Neighbour” event. This time we are closing Hamilton Avenue, North between Spencer Street and Armstrong Avenue, in front of the Mino’weesini Grocery Program location. Yasmine’s Syrian Kitchen,  A Cooking for a Cause partner  is catering the meal, Merry Dairy will be there and the PFC kitchen has promised a sweet treat and Dannielle Allard will be entertaining us with her beautiful music. This event is for everyone!

There is no rain date. We will eat rain or shine! The important thing is that we will be together, getting to know each other, sharing with each other, caring about each other. If we want to live in a city where everyone has the means and opportunity to thrive and no mother has to agonize over feeding her children only boiled potatoes, then events like this one are surely on the path to hope.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little hope these days.

What makes you hopeful?

Bright red event poster. Welcome to Dinner event at 5pm on Wednesday July 20th, 2022. 5 Hamilton Ave North. Everyone is welcome!
Donate Now – Parkdale Food Centre (canadahelps.org)

Speaking The Language of Neighbourhoods~ Karen Secord

In the 1960’s my mother told her five children to go outside and come home when the street lights came on. I’m pretty sure she didn’t worry about us. We lived in a subdivision outside Toronto where bungalows lined the streets and there was always an adult watching your every move; children belonged to the Neighbourhood. 

Even though the lawns in this new suburb had barely taken root and there wasn’t a mature tree in sight, bug collecting was sport and cars drove slowly, mindful not to interrupt a good game of street hockey. While yards were larger and houses were further apart, I recall knowing the names of every single one of our many Neighbours. They were known to both give a stern warning if we got out of hand or lunch if we were building a fort in their yard that day. There were no smartphones, or text messages, just my Dad who would scream out our front door to signal it was mealtime. I still believe that Neighbourhood had an unspoken code of care.

Nostalgia aside, something interesting happened to Neighbourhoods between those days and now.

We started building fences – literally and figuratively. 

Sadly, knowing our Neighbours, in an age when we are continually being bombarded with information and expectations, is far less important than it once was. The pandemic only magnified this problem. Watching a senior walking aimlessly down an empty Wellington Street during the first weeks of the lockdown in 2020, unaware of the severity of what was happening around her and my own struggle with the lack of meaningful human interaction during months alone, reminds me of the need to strengthen relationships within our Neighbourhood. 

For the last eight years the Parkdale Food Centre has strived, in subtle and not so subtle ways, to create a community of Neighbours who feel connected, believe that they belong and are contributing to something that benefits the greater good, regardless of their income level. Our holistic, open-door approach has welcomed people from across the city to grow, cook, eat, share and learn about food. Together we have nourished each other. 

Recently, we were asked to build and deliver specially curated boxes of food; fresh and frozen meals, produce and staples to isolated, immobile seniors. Of course, our team didn’t hesitate. Still, I wonder how we can better affect more sustainable resident-led action. What, I wonder, is preventing a senior’s next door Neighbour from checking in on them, from sharing a meal or two, or from offering to take them to drop them to an appointment?

How when we know that relationships are really the connective tissue that binds us together, do we mobilize people to care more, fear less and begin to be more present in their own front yards…or apartment lobbies…or other community spaces?

Because it is not a secret that when you get to know someone, when you have a relationship with your Neighbour, vibrant communities are born.

So, let’s talk, Neighbour!

Watch for PFC messaging inviting you to join us in a new wave of “Neighbouring”!

We’re ready to be friends. Are you?

Growing A Generation Of Solutionaries – Karen Secord

Last week at a Staff meeting, and then again at an Advocacy Committee meeting, Karin Freeman, Manager of Growing Futures, reminded us what it means to be a “Solutionary”.

 Solutionary – someone who sees opportunities where others see problems.

It’s a word adults may not be familiar with. But if you are 8-16 years old and have taken one of our social justice workshops I’m hopeful that you identify with this good kind of disruptor.

Since 2016, Parkdale Food Centre has been making space for young people to become the fearless leaders our city needs, especially if we are ever going to solve the complex social challenges this generation faces. The Growing Futures program was created to empower youth to expand their minds. 

Young people are open to new ideas; they are far less likely than adults to be constrained by the “wrong” idea which makes it exciting when developing ways to actively engage in their communities. Using food and creativity as catalysts for positive community action, our team continues to witness the transfer of solutions from these curious young change agents to their parents and other adults in their lives.

However, recognizing the potential youth have to influence our perspective is nothing new for Parkdale Food Centre. Does anyone remember the neon green and highlighter yellow shirts once worn in our first youth program?

In 2014 the Forward Family Shelter in Mechanicsville, sadly, had all 19 rooms occupied by homeless families. While the converted old school and the programs offered by SWCHC provided some amusement for the younger residents, we knew it was the teenagers that were missing the most.  It seemed to me that there were few positive outlets for their energy. A chance meeting, a spark of an idea, a $25,000 cheque and a Community’s commitment to partnering with 13 youth all inspired a movement. 

The youth called it Thirteen: A Social Enterprise. 

On February 25, 2022 the 10th cohort of “13” graduated; that makes well over 100 youth 15-18 who have developed entrepreneurial skills, business acumen, garnered sales and public speaking experience, gained confidence, participated in untold number of community events, developed life-long relationships and gone on to post-secondary school knowing, hopefully, that their voices matter.

Recently, the United Way of Eastern Ontario presented program manager Meagan McVeigh and Thirteen: A Social Enterprise with their Community Builder Award.

Parkdale Food Centre believes in the power of young voices to question the status quo and to influence positive change. And we are grateful for the adults who have supported us to raise the curtain and present more Solutionaries to the world.

A love note from Karen

Every February my heart aches ever so slightly affected by what I consider to be forced romanticism; pink hearts, cupids, and red lips adorning cards with romantic musings, the crazy expectations, and ridiculous segregating of, what can appear to be, the more or the less loved. 

Does the delivery of red roses on February 14 really mean you are truly loved? Or, does the inability to buy your sweetheart a special trinket mean that they aren’t quite loved enough?

Media has a way of influencing our thoughts and then almost magically, without us even realizing it, our behaviours. We don’t start out wanting more than is necessary to survive but somehow we become convinced that a seven-dollar greeting card and some heart-shaped chocolates is the best way to express our feelings.  

This year if you are struggling to feel especially joyful you are probably not alone. It is no longer only the work we do through the Parkdale Food Centre that is heavy and seemingly never-ending, it is a disturbing global disease and a shockingly angry cry for attention that is overwhelming many of us.

In the midst of a month devoted to “love” I have heard about a family who hasn’t eaten in days, read about a homeless man who lost toes to frostbite, listened to a differently-abled colleague talk about his inability to safely leave his downtown apartment, I have supported six staff through illness with Covid-19 and I’ve spent more than one sleepless night worrying about how we will continue to fund much-needed meals to social service agencies through Cooking for a Cause Ottawa.

Still, there is hope; small glimpses of humanity that remind me that collectively although we may fumble, we have the ability to do better for each other. It is in communicating these small, momentary sweet spots in life – the shared meal, holding hands, the kiss of a child, caring for an animal, a lingering conversation – that we may develop a vision for a kinder, more loving future.

My Valentine’s Day will come when everyone has the means and opportunity to thrive.

Maybe I am a romantic after all?

Karen

The Things People Say When They’re Eating – by Karen Secord

 

Food Bank Ottawa Charity CanadaI think I spend far too much time worrying about offending people, especially when they are eating. It’s a hazard of my job; a kind of quicksand I can find myself drowning when the conversation doesn’t go the way the person across from me feels it should. 

“You must really feel so pleased to be helping those people eat good food”.  

I wonder when I hear this, or any number of variations of it, whether the speaker sees my chest heave deeply, holding in a growl while I try not to choke.

Am I one of those people? Who are those people?

Charity, Food Bank, Ottawa, Canada, Resources, Nutrition

I am not disabled. I am not trying to raise my children in a motel room where a microwave is the kitchen and the beds are the dining room table.

And I have certainly never had to flee my homeland, sacrificing my career, culture, and family.

I don’t work for minimum wage serving others only to stand in line at a food bank to get the rations to feed myself.

I don’t have only coins left in my pocket after paying rent, medication, and a bus pass.

For me purchasing delicious food and sharing it with others is one of the great joys of life. Of course, throughout my life, I have been afforded the means and opportunity to thrive. 

My dinner companion pushes forward, “It’s great that you are teaching people how to cook.”

I can’t help wondering about those long-held myths that perpetuate the narrative of “if only they learned to cook better they would save money”. After a decade of cooking and sharing meals and telling stories, we decided to survey our Neighbours with the hope that they would be gracious enough to offer their insights.  

“Thank you for asking,” said one respondent. “No one has ever asked me before.”

Just over 270 households completed the 94 question survey, administered in three languages. What we heard is that the vast majority of households who participate in our programs are living in poverty.

Of the households in the survey, 69% had an annual income before taxes of less than $20,000.  Just less than 53% had an income of $15,000 per year or less, while almost 20% had an income of $10,000 or less. 

Noteworthy here is that 61% of the households had at least one adult who had completed some college or university.

Charity, Food Bank. Grocery, Ottawa
No-cost produce market at Fresh Eat Fridays at the Hintonburg Community Centre. Volunteers and staff bag produce that Neighbours want and choose.

Basic social assistance rates for a single person with a disability or receiving Ontario Works (because they don’t qualify for Employment Insurance) are $14,028 and $8,796, respectively.  This compares with Statistics Canada’s Market-based Measure (MBM) of the cost of a modest, basic standard of living in Ottawa/Gatineau of $20,053.  

What I knew was confirmed. You can’t save money when you don’t have money. Having a grocery store in your neighbourhood is truly irrelevant when you couldn’t afford anything in the store anyway. 60% of respondents said they shop at the dollar store. I suppose “access” means different things to different people.

At Parkdale Food Centre a no-cost produce market every Friday means that good quality fruits and vegetables are free. And so are the over 200 meals our kitchen lovingly produces for volunteers to distribute. 

Charity, Food, Food Bank, Ottawa
A delicious and nutritious salad for Neighbours as part of our meal & market on Fresh Eat Fridays.

Good food is not a luxury. Yet, we heard over and over how parents go without food so their children can eat, that seniors steal food for their pets, and how hunger affects a person’s mental health. At our weekly “Coffee and Conversation” I asked folks what they needed from the government.

The mostly older group, drinking coffee with muffins, egg salad sandwiches, and apples to take home, agreed that they want to have enough income to be able to purchase the food they enjoy just like everyone else. At the same time, they want the social programming Parkdale Food Centre offers, in fact, they want more of it!

Our friend and Neighbour Eric at Coffee & Conversations. Wednesdays starting at 9 am followed by Chair Yoga.

 

The right to food is enshrined in various international human rights instruments which have been signed and ratified by Canada, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Article 24(2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Preamble of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I think when I sit around the table with friends and family this December my gift to them will be a gentle reminder that “building back better” is going to require a shift in the questions we ask, the narrative we perpetuate, and the myths we pass on.

Maybe this holiday season you will join me in starting a conversation about the human right to food…

PFC staff and volunteers at Fresh Eat Fridays.

 

I am a Culinary Activist – By Simon Bell

It was after my shift, late on a Friday when it hit me.

I was sitting in a park, just a block or so from where I worked as the Chef of a very busy and popular restaurant. I had just finished a long twelve hours in the kitchen and I had positioned myself on a park bench in what you could only describe as “upright fetal position”, just sort of staring into the middle distance, with exhaustion. 

Food Bank, Donate, Monthly Donor, Food Security,

I cannot recall what it was that had me so upset and why I could not walk the other two blocks home right away.

Was it a customer complaint?

An overcooked piece of meat sent back?

A challenge with the myriad of components and variables that you contend with day to day when running a professional kitchen?

Either way, I know now that whatever it was it wasn’t important to me… at all.

 

Sitting there in the park, still covered in sweat from working the line, hands throbbing from repetitively burning myself over the course of my shift, my eyes caught a street outreach van that had pulled up beside the park and was assisting someone who had made their home for the night in a sleeping bag tucked under a tree.

I watched as the outreach worker handed him water and what looked like half a sandwich in a zip lock bag, they kneeled over the man and chatted with him. As I sat there watching, I felt embarrassed that I was feeling the way I was, that I was so wrapped up in something that wasn’t a matter of life or death. 

Maybe this story reads corny, and the purpose of writing this is not to announce to everyone how woke I am and that everything else is insignificant next to human suffering and injustice, I’m too white and too male to really claim that I’m an expert on those topics. But this was a pivotal moment in my life and I knew right away what I wanted to do and what I didn’t.

I realized that I would much rather use food as a way to create a community, to use food for good, and try to get to the essence of what food really means to everyone; home, family love, community.

I realized that I really didn’t want to read the latest yelp review or serve another over manicured plate of food to someone that really didn’t need it. Instead, I wanted to share food again, with everyone. It really shouldn’t matter how much money you have, should it? Everyone deserves the best when it comes to food, who could disagree? 

IT’S FOOD.

We can do better than half a sandwich can’t we?

What is food to you?

A fancy Instagram photo to share, to gain more likes?

Is it a commodity to sell to those who can afford it?

Has the food we eat become more about status than, love, community, family?

 I wish more cooks knew that there is more out there than what’s in front of you. I wish more cooks knew that they could find ways of connecting with people over food without any pretension or ridiculous pressure. That they can make a difference with your skills by stepping outside the restaurant and sharing your knowledge. I wish more cooks would jump out into the community and cook simple, beautiful food with others. I wish more cooks knew they could learn so much more than they think by cooking with people outside of the restaurant world. 

Years later, I am still in the kitchen but at Parkdale Food Centre, a charitable organization working towards solutions to food insecurity where my team and I cook up to two hundred meals a week alongside volunteers and Neighbors. I’m connecting with people in a way that I never thought imaginable with food. The most common mistake people make when asking about my job is the assumption that I’m Jamie Oliver feeding the children kale and quinoa or that I’m teaching people without any income how to eat.

They could not be more wrong. I facilitate, I listen, I assist, I learn and I don’t for a second assume that because I have worked in professional kitchens that I know how to make a better soup than someone who has found themselves coming to Parkdale seeking support. I am part of my community now. I know faces and names and we say hello when passing by, I have never experienced that type of connected community. I am home. I found my way out of the restaurant kitchen and don’t intend on ever looking back. I found a way to share food again. I found a way to ensure food is part of love, family, community.  

I am a Culinary Activist.

 

What is “Normal”? By Karen Secord

It’s starting to feel a lot like “normal”; like in pre-Covid times children are playing in parks, families are out shopping, neighbourhoods are hosting barbecues. But for those of us trying to navigate the ever-changing landscape of public health pandemic protocols, “normal” has been redefined.

The Province of Ontario may be “opening up” to allow for more activities, however, the reality is that the public health precautions we are obliged to follow, in order to keep our staff, volunteers, and Neighbours safe, things have not really changed. 

 

During a presentation by Ottawa Public Health on July 20, we were told that the following protocols remain in place:

 

  • Screening
  • Staying home when feeling sick
  • Mandatory Masks
  • Personal protective equipment including eye protection* (*eye protection is for when you can’t maintain 2m distance.)
  • Hand Hygiene
  • Availability to wash or sanitize hands upon arrival
  • For staff and volunteers to wash frequently
  • Adapt the activity to be COVID Wise and achieve the current provincial guidance
  • Consider outdoor programs and services
  • Scheduling system to ensure adequate physical distancing
  • Physical distancing visual markers & signage
  • Adhere to current gathering limits
  • Reduce Contact and Exposure
  • Frequent Communication & Updates
  • Ensure that all staff, volunteers, and guests are aware of the expectations for participation.
  • Post signage and directional markers to assist with management and flow of visitors.
  • Cleaning & Disinfecting
  • Cleaning and disinfecting of any high touch surfaces

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Food Bank, Find Food, Ottawa Food Bank

We’ve come a long way since March 2020. A full return to “normal” will take a community effort, and together we can.   There is nothing we want more than to see you in our happy, food-filled, bustling space. But we know that in order to create that space with open arms, once again we are going to have to think differently, design better systems, and create more indoor space. So, that is what we are going to do!

Watch for a Fall/Winter that still has the obligatory Covid-19 protocols but also has room for all of us to do more and do it better, in the community. Together, we can.

Neighbour to Neighbour

Community ,Fridge, Neighbour to Neighbour, Food bank, Ottawa Food Bank

 

Food, it is our Greatest Connector

Donate, donations, ottawa, community

Join us!  Monthly Donors at the Parkdale Food Centre, our ambassadors, are a special collective. They share our vision of community and good food for all. Becoming a Monthly Donor is so important, here is why: 

Food transcends, it is our greatest connector. 

Food heals us. 

Food keeps us healthy.

We celebrate, mourn, reflect, listen, learn and love all around food – What power it shares.  

 

Beautiful flowers donated by Kate at City Love Flowers. These flower arrangements are given to our Neighbours every Friday at Fresh Eats Friday’s in front of the PFC.

 

Food insecurity and hunger are a consequence of poverty. 

1 in 7 Ottawans identify as being severely food insecure, many more rely upon emergency food services such as food banks and meal programs for support. For food. For survival.

But what about the rest?  

Ottawa’s First Outdoor Community Fridge at the PFC, Captured by CTV News

At the Parkdale Food Centre we believe that addressing food insecurity is more than offering a box of cans and a bunch of ripe bananas. 

We believe good food fosters community and health. 

It fosters kindness and trust.  

Good food fosters love. 

 

Thirteen youth using our very own spices in the PFC Kitchen!

 

All of our programs are powered by these principles. It is the generosity of PFC’s Monthly Donors that ensure we continue to share:

  • Nutritious Community Meals
  • Fresh Produce Markets 
  • Culturally appropriate, barrier-free access to healthy food
  • Cooking Workshops
  • Youth programing 
  • Social Enterprise nurturing valuable entrepreneurial and social skills for youth 
  • Youth workshops that help school-aged students understand the connections between poverty, food insecurity, and health 
  • Advocacy for systemic change

Programs. Donations, Monthly Donors
Youth Programing: Solutionary Workshops at PFC by Growing Futures

Share our vision? Join us!

You will be welcomed into our community of Monthly Donors, like no other. Be part of the solution. Let’s address food insecurity better. Help us bring the special parts of food back for everyone. Good food and community for all. 

Become a Monthly Donor today, you will be glad you did. Click here to join our community of Monthly Donors.

Meredith Kerr 
Communications & Donor Relations Manager

 

It Happened To Me – By Karen Secord

I am a Covid-19 statistic. Hospitalized. Isolated. Oxygenated. Traumatized.

Until March 22, 2021, when my five-year-old granddaughter and 17 others in her school tested positive, I only knew of two others who had contracted the deadly virus.

My granddaughter was asymptomatic – not a single symptom, ever.

I wasn’t afraid. And then I was.

On March 16, because I was in the GTA working from my son’s home in Brampton in a bubble I had maintained since March 2020, I drove to a pharmacy in Etobicoke and accepted the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I am 62 and at the time AstraZeneca was available for my age group in only three areas in the province – Ottawa wasn’t one of them. I only had to agree that I would return to the same location for my second dose, although the pharmacist had absolutely no idea when that might be.

I’d been working from my small apartment in Hintonburg, where I live alone, since the first emergency order in March 2020. It was one of a dozen compromises we made at the Parkdale Food Centre to responsibly protect the health of our staff, Neighbours, donors, and volunteers. 

It saddened us to have to lock our doors and limit the number of people on site. Our once bustling Centre suddenly became a task-oriented workspace. We prioritized staff over volunteers, postponed youth programming, and focused our efforts on what we felt was most important -ensuring our Neighbours received nutritious food, access to resources, and someone to talk to.

For the first four months, I was speaking to Ottawa Public Health regularly. Information was changing rapidly and it was clear that even the experts were learning on the fly.

There were many media interviews, especially when we closed our doors for a week. It was unprecedented. When one of our staff exhibited symptoms and Ottawa Public Health was not able to offer testing, the magnitude of the situation hit us hard.

A full year later, on March 25, 2021, I started to feel like I was getting the flu. When a dry cough interrupted virtual meetings I told everyone it was allergies. I even took some allergy medication. Quarantined with my family, we wore masks in the house and took our temperatures regularly throughout the day.

After all, the Covid test I had on March 22 with Peel Public Health came back negative. Still, a strange kind of exhaustion took over my body. It became difficult to walk up the stairs and once I was in bed, it took everything in my power to rouse myself, my chest and head both hurt.

I was in Brampton, the epicentre for the spread of Covid; going to a hospital emergency room or even sitting in the waiting area at a clinic seemed like a bad idea. I thought I could sleep my way to normalcy. But on April 7 I looked at myself in the mirror and my face looked grey. I was defeated.

The nurse at the other end of the call to Tele-Health Ontario made the decision for me – get to a hospital emergency room. I didn’t have the strength to argue.

I was admitted to the Georgetown Hospital with Covid pneumonia on Wednesday, April 7. They only accommodate a maximum of four Covid patients in a make-shift co-ed isolation ward at this small Hospital.

My family took me there because they had heard other area hospitals were overflowing and that they would begin transferring new admissions to other cities. My oxygen saturation level was only 80. I had a fever and an x-ray showed my lungs had severely restricted capacity.

My second night I messaged a long-time friend: “I have Covid. If I don’t recover, remember that I love you.”

Nasal oxygen relaxed me; my breathing began to return from shallow to normal. I realized I had been avoiding deep breaths so as not to drown in coughing fits. When I asked the nurse why I needed the “pic line” her answer scared me: “because we have seen patients with Covid turn quickly, not be able to breathe, we may not have time to put another one in”, her face and body draped and masked so that not a centimeter of skin was exposed to my disease.

For the six days, I was a patient I was the only female. I felt uncomfortable and asked for another room but I learned that “co-ed” was not the result of a desperate need for Covid emergency accommodation but rather the result of cuts to healthcare spending. Both doctors and nurses apologized to me – a woman of a certain age – for having to share a bathroom with men. I was cranky but at least I was near family, even if they couldn’t visit.

One morning a doctor came to the bedside of the older man on the other side of the curtain. He asked if the man had a “DNR” (Do Not Resuscitate) order in place. The young doctor explained to the patient that his oxygen saturation wasn’t improving and that they were going to have to put him on a ventilator. It didn’t sound like the man understood so the doctor, in a soft, soothing voice said that he would call the man’s son.

Before he could be moved, the nurse wheeled in another man and with nowhere to put him pushed the chair into a small cubby-like space behind a curtain on the other side of me.

When I could get data on my phone I read the opinions of what seemed like a growing number of people calling Covid a hoax. I took a photo of my red fevered face.

This is certainly real, I told that surreal image.

At the same time, in Ottawa, I had learned that a PFC staff member had tested positive which triggered testing, isolation, and a 2-week closure. A difficult choice that was made easier with the knowledge that all staff that were required to isolate would receive full pay. A privilege not all charitable organizations have the opportunity to offer. 

The month of April quickly became yet another, challenging part of our story. We persevered. Our community persevered, Neighbour to Neighbour. 

As we slowly make our way out from these unprecedented times, let us all demand:

  • An end to healthcare cuts, never before has our health and those that ensure we have it been so valuable. 
  • PAID sick days for all.
  • Help us challenge the status quo and begin the discussion: how have charitable organizations had to shoulder access to basic human rights such as food, housing, health? 

The month of June has brought with it gratitude and celebration for health (for myself and staff) and vaccinations for our essential service team (others too). After long weeks of darkness, last week I became fully vaccinated and under a tent at PFC, we welcomed the safe return of Neighbours for Fresh Eats- Meals & Market.

I can see the light. 

Karen Secord

A Change in Perspective

Food Ottawa Food Insecurity

I’ve spent way too much time alone with my thoughts since March 2020, a date that will likely go down in history as the time when life in Canada changed forever. Sadly, life changed more for some than for others. The inequity Covid-19 has exposed is like a raw wound with coloured bandaid;

What are you missing most about your pre-Covid life? What has this new reality revealed to you about yourself? Your community? Has something changed that has inspired you so much that you now want to incorporate it in life moving forward? Has anything shocked or surprised you?

We have all had to make some difficult decisions in the past year: Who do we hug? Should we travel, even within our own country or province? Is it safe to go Christmas shopping? Should children attend school? How do we cook with and share a meal with our Neighbours?

The Parkdale Food Centre has also had to make some challenging decisions, reimagining all that we do. Follow along for Parkdale Food Centre’s covid-19 year in review in pictures.

In March of 2020, with the national lockdown in place and without Volunteer support (the lifeblood of our Food Bank program) all PFC staff were assigned to the Food Bank. It was of paramount importance that we continue to provide a COVID safe “shopping model” to our Food Bank. This meant our Neighbours continued to have food agency and “ordered” items through our grocery list on the phone at intake.

Boxes, Challenge, Neighbours, Pivot

Those early and challenging days, while our staff resources were stretched, they stoically shopped, prepared takeaway meals (which were lined in Food Bank boxes), prepared Food Bank orders, boxed them, and delivered them to our Community. Staff were on a weekly “bubble rotation” which provided time away from the stresses of frontline service and ensured the safety of our team.

In early May, we partnered with Krackers Katering, who supported Food Bank deliveries, until October when Ottawa Cares Volunteers came to assist and continue to do so today, one year later.

Food Insecurity Nutrious Pivot

For our wonderful Social Enterprise, Thirteen also continued with their work and in December “popped up” the Social Market- your one-stop shop for items with a cause, social enterprises. All the while continuing to provide our youth with valuable work experience and meaningful employment.

Social Enterprise For A Cause

In March, when food service providers closed, The Ottawa Community Food Partnership saw a tremendous gap in service provision and pivoted- Cooking For A Cause Ottawa was born. Since that time; 115,652 meals,11,552 litres of soup, 15,668 loaves of bread have kindly exchanged hands between our Neighbours, businesses, and social service agencies. To facilitate our work, Velma the Veggie Van was brought into the family too!!

Good Food Market

Some of our lighter, kinder moments- staff arrived after difficult work weeks to beautiful messages from our Neighbours. 

Kind Words Neighbours Share Love You're Awesome

Some other highlights we managed to implement during difficult year were:

🍎We successfully transferred our Cooking Workshops to a virtual concept, where Neighbours could “tune in” and cook together. All ingredients are provided by PFC and where necessary, we facilitated internet access and ChromeBooks for those that needed it.  

🍎Simon and Friends Cooking show was introduced on Facebook Live, to replace our Community Meals. Neighbours can tune in and follow along with the preparation of our Community Meal where Neighbours are later able to access the meal, takeaway style!

🍎In October, PFC launched a supplementary free produce market offered weekly in tandem with our Community Meal takeout.  

Good Food For All

While we hope we never encounter another year like this one, we are certain there has been a silver lining: a change in perspective.

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