T’is the Season of Moral Distress

T’is the Season of Moral Distress

By Karen Secord

It’s that time of year again; the couple of months before Christmas when people are inspired by the circumstances of others to pick a charity and give back in the spirit of the holidays.

Year after year the cycle repeats itself. 

Sadly, there is a moral distress I feel at this time of year. It explodes in the tension between our commitment to influence the creation of a more equitable system – a year long struggle – and the condensed six to eight weeks at the end of every year when many people look up from their busy lives and feel an obligation to help another human or offer support for an organization doing that work. 

The phone rings off the hook as people dream of donning reindeer ears and baking cookies in our kitchen or bringing in their whole office team to stock shelves. Shopping bags of random food items show up unsolicited from well-meaning groups who likely have not familiarized themselves with our community kitchen model. When half the products have outdated best-before dates we are stuck with the cost of commercial garbage disposal. And the media is like an echo chamber, a predictable narrator of stories of the good giver and the poor receiver.

In our world we are all equal and included. 

The majority of the revenue the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) needs to sustain itself arrives courtesy of foundations, grants  and individual donors. Since we are not committing to a short-term one-dimensional solution to hunger, or simply offering a bag of random food items to fill a hungry belly today, our vision and therefore our programming is more holistic. We test solutions, engage a variety of participants, create, innovate and advocate for systemic change. We understand the value of cross-sectoral partnerships.

We are currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis that is inexcusable. There are more people who are homeless, going hungry, and searching for hopefulness hungry than we have ever before seen. To be clear, these problems won’t ever  be solved by buying a bag full of packaged food at the Superstore or responding to the cashier’s request at Walmart to donate to their “Fight Hunger and Spark Change” campaign. A livable minimum wage, a revamped tax system for the ultra rich, and a guaranteed basic income would lift Canadians out of the devastating poverty that current governments have enacted. 

Instead of respecting the basic human rights of all Canadians to food and housing, governments  have legislated poverty by keeping social assistance and disability rates well below the poverty line. (Over 70% of PFC Neighbours have an income of less than $20,000 annually). Their strategy is an expensive choice, one that they have got away with by creating a façade that charities are picking up the slack. When social service workers direct Neighbours to their nearest food bank because the income they are offered is not enough to pay for both housing and food, it is obvious there is a problem. 

Food insecurity has become a bit of a seasonal game. Filling busses with cans or creating pyramids in school hallways are feel-good stunts that, at best miss the point; at worst, they reinforce the deeply concerning fact that a growing segment of the Canadian population is not just living in poverty, they are cemented there and others are joining them in this pit of despair at record speed. 

This year we are sharing honestly and pleading with you to support our forward-thinking work here and to check out our programming updates today and often. 

Follow our Instagram & Facebook page

Maybe you would like to add your voice to an upcoming Community Check-in conversation. Book one of our new Solutionary Cooking Workshops (details in the new year) for your family and friends.

Join me for lunch any Tuesday or Thursday. I’d love to introduce you to some of your Neighbours. 

Together we can create an Ottawa where everyone has the means and opportunity to thrive!

Stay kind and be caring,


The Challenge of Upholding Human Rights Through Charity

The Challenge of Upholding Human Rights Through Charity

By Karen Secord

Last week someone dropped off a bin of second-hand underwear. This came on the heels of a donation of mostly expired tins from a “food drive”; a box of gross moldy produce, and toiletries that someone had partly used then discarded.

It is hard not to feel deflated. It’s why our commitment to creating spaces where wholesome food is the centerpiece for connection, health and belonging has been so important, our mantra – Food is a Human Right echoes throughout 30 Rosemount and 5 Hamilton Avenue.

It’s also why we try to direct the generosity of people away from “food drives” and towards long term, much more useful ways of contributing towards a solution. Our goal is equitable access to food in a system where there is individual choice. One that doesn’t look like, as my friend Graham Riches says, “leftover food for left behind people”.

Food is a basic human need that we all share in order to maintain good physical and mental health. In rich countries like Canada, there should be no question that all people at all times should be able to feed themselves with choice and dignity. At Parkdale Food Centre we have built an infrastructure that supports, (although tenuous at best, due to a nearly complete lack of reliable funding) multiple access points to fresh, delicious and nutritious food.

News reports of record food increases are like a slap in the face when many families are budgeting for their groceries each week. We buy produce by the truckload to stock the shelves at our Mino’weesini Grocery Program and distribute to our three no-cost Fresh Eats markets. Not long ago a case of romaine cost $55.90. This week it is $179.99. A case of tomatoes exploded to $89.95, while the price of pepper is $23 per case.

It’s the “perfect storm” – unheard of price increases, low wages, a severe lack of affordable housing, plus stagnant, woefully inadequate social assistance rates. 

The predictable outcome is more people unable to afford food for themselves and their families; more people coming from across Ottawa to access our programming, particularly the three no-cost Fresh Eats markets on Friday, Mino’weesini Grocery Program, our virtual cooking workshops with Chefs Anna & Troy, the Community Fridges and our community meals. While our basic commitment to the Ottawa Food Bank, like all of their 26 community food agencies, is to provide just three days of food once per month for each individual living in the area defined as our catchment.  Here we always offer much more than that. At Mino’weesini, Neighbours have agency; they not only shop for the food that serves them best but they can come back multiple times with the points they are given, depending on their needs.

We are proud of the community service we provide to Ottawa residents. However, we are worried and I’m asking for your help. We have a huge financial gap to fill by year’s end if we are to keep up the same level of service, given rising costs and increased demand. Here are our specific “asks” from you:

  1. We will not be running a family sponsorship program this year. We have started referring families to other organizations that provide these services. Instead, we are hoping that you will donate gift cards from Walmart, Giant Tiger or the Superstore.
  2. Please, support us on Giving Tuesday, by donating here, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar. 
  3. If your family, office group or team wants to host a collective fundraiser, we would love to work with you! Be in touch with Heather  heather@parkdalefoodcentre.org

We are going to weather these difficult times together by helping each other. If you are curious about what we do, why not give me a call?! I’d love to have a virtual chat, or better still, come join us for lunch! There is no better way to understand the intersection of good food and good mood than visiting PFC at lunchtime on a Tuesday or Thursday.

We hope to see you around our table very soon!

When change is the only constant, we will find new ways to come together

By Karen Secord

When change is the only constant, we will find new ways to come together

When I turned 50 my family and friends had a surprise party for me. As I recall, I really didn’t feel much like celebrating anything; my life had been in transition and it often felt like I was floating in the dark, grasping for a “thing” that would ground me. But the evening took an unexpected turn when one after another young people who had spent time with me over the years stood up and told rehearsed stories about my, um, idiosyncrasies. Suddenly, I felt as though I was, and indeed always had been, exactly where I was meant to be. I laughed until I cried. And we all were reminded how much we had contributed to each other’s lives.

I must admit, I struggle with the notion of hosting a lavish evening as a way to raise money to support the work we do at PFC – after school meals, virtual cooking classes, community meals, social justice workshops in schools, employment support, an advocacy team, and a social enterprise for youth. But the reality is that half of the funds we need to keep providing these vital services comes from you. Not from any level of government. Not from big business. Not from the Ottawa Food Bank. 

We are a trusted voice and advocate for food security because you believe in us.

We have seen a 41% increase in demand for our grocery program in the past two months. One weekly free produce market has now morphed into three. We are seeing so many Neighbours on the brink of homelessness and with needs that we had to create a new position to provide support. 

But then I remember my young friends and the gift of time, storytelling and fun they gave me all those years ago. (Well maybe not that many years!) And how much events like these are needed to buoy the human spirit. It has been three years since I have dusted off my fancy duds and told you how much your support has changed lives, and how much I have missed you!

The good work done by the Parkdale Food Centre cannot be sustained if we are in a constant state of hopelessness and despair. We can’t merely survive each day, watching as the number of people settling in around our dining table grows and the complex issues presented to us become more and more acute. We must have spaces to celebrate all the amazing ways our Neighbours have risen up despite the many roadblocks oppression, racism and economic equality have put in their way. I am really looking forward to sharing with you the myriad of ways our incredible staff have responded in the midst of the ongoing crisis to make our programs better than ever.

So we planned a big event and got excited. We even began promoting it. Maybe we were being naive.

Sadly, “Alight the Night” at Parlour has been cancelled. The rising cases of Covid-19 and recent news of new variants reminded us that having an indoor, maskless event featuring food, drinking and dancing probably isn’t the best idea. 

I still want to see you and we still desperately need your support. Maybe you could drop around and say hello?

Let’s talk about the right to food

Artwork by Kseniya Tsoy

Parkdale Food Centre asks City of Ottawa to Declare October 5 “Right to Food Day”

By Karen Secord

Canadians are hungry. And it’s not because we are a country without food or the financial resources to ensure everyone has enough food to be healthy. Instead, it is the growing economic inequality exacerbated by poor public policy. Canada, one of the world’s richest countries, legislates poverty.

On Wednesday, October 5 join Parkdale Food Centre and our partners in a city-wide conversation during “Right to Food Day”.

 In 2021, 5.8 million people in 10 provinces reported being food insecure (University of Toronto’s PROOF study). In April 2022, Parkdale Food Centre surveyed 324  households who accessed one or more of our programs, and 75% of respondents said that they ate less than they felt they should because they didn’t have enough money to purchase food.

When the Ontario government celebrates a mere $58 (5%) increase in disability support to Ontarians, bringing their monthly income to a woefully inadequate $1,227, and ignores the paltry $733 others receive from Ontario Works, they are knowingly legislating poverty. The consequences of subsisting in this kind of “deep poverty” has a very real cost. 

According to PROOF, “adults living in food-insecure households are more vulnerable to infectious diseases,poor oral health. injury,and chronic conditions, like depression and anxiety disorders, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, back problems,and chronic pain. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions.The negative implications for health are greatest for those living in severely food-insecure households.” 

Furthermore, a McMaster University study found a 21-year difference in life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest residents of Hamilton, Ontario. (https://cwp-csp.ca/poverty/just-the-facts/) It isn’t a leap to imagine that economic stability provides opportunity and overall, a better quality of life.

When we opened our doors in late spring, to invite our Neighbours back to shop for their groceries at Mino’weesini (5 Hamilton Avenue North.), to drop by for coffee at 30 Rosemount Avenue, to enjoy a slow meal cooked just for them in our kitchen, a chat around our long wood tables and to access resources, we began seeing the impact years of Covid-19 isolation coupled with poverty have had. Not only are needs greater but they are showing up in different ways. Anxiety, anger, and hopelessness have surfaced in many actions and conversations. When seniors began lining up at 8am for a 1pm no cost market, we regrouped and added two more market locations in Ottawa Community Housing buildings. While we fill our community fridges up to six times a day, they rarely stay full for long. So, although a fire set in our community fridge enclosure and homophobic graffiti scrawled on the front may have deeply upset us, we weren’t really surprised. We recognize that hunger breeds desperation.

At Parkdale Food Centre it was nearly 10 years ago when we began questioning the misguided narrative that surrounds our response to food insecurity. There is nothing dignified about standing in a line only to be told how much food you can have once a month from a system than is outdated and unresponsive to the complex problems poverty creates, such as precarious housing (340 families in Ottawa are homeless living in motel rooms for up to two years without proper cooking facilities). We purchase and distribute crockpots to families and individuals who are not equipped to cook at home just to make life a bit easier. But we know it is nothing more than another bandaid on top of an already fraying bandaid; a temporary solution that is barely good enough until our advocacy for something much much better pays off.

“Food charity allows the public to feel good about their donations of money, food, and time, while providing governments with an opening to neglect their right to food obligations. Charity shifts attention away from structural issues and leads to superficial fixes which are neither dignified nor long-term. Charity provides short term relief, but in the longer term, people experiencing food insecurity continue to risk facing the chronic and multiple realities of poverty because underlying causes remain unaddressed,” notes GSA. 

For the past decade you have stood by us and believed in us as we talked about and challenged food banking as the solution to food insecurity.  What was once a small food bank that walked in lock step with hundreds of others across the country has grown up, adding programs that equip, empower and inspire our community and others.

On “Right to Food Day” at 10am at City Hall, we will present our Knowing Your Neighbours II Survey as the launch to a day of robust conversation and meaningful events that we hope will create transformational change; the capacity we have to nurture our communities, each other and the environment. 

 If you believe in an Ottawa where everyone has the means and opportunity to live a healthy, connected, and fulfilling life, join us, we’ve saved a seat for you.

Simple Connections. Complicated Changes.

Simple Connections. Complicated Changes.

By Karen Secord

two children painting on a large white canvas with the PFC heart logo in the center

Connection (is) the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement,…”

~ Brene Brown

There is no worse place to be than being unknown in a room of people who are familiar with each other. I know well, that nauseous new-person-in-class breathless fear. 

My heart would race. 

My head would pound. 

Every single time I was the new kid. Five high schools. 

Dozens of classes. 

Hundreds of unfamiliar faces.

I didn’t realize at the time but the lessons I learned as a shy, stringy-haired, too-big and awkward teen would hold fast into adulthood. 

Humans may need time alone but we don’t thrive in complete isolation. We need to see ourselves reflected in others from time to time; desired, cared for, heard. We want to contribute to something, to someone, somehow. And we need others to value the person that we are or at least care enough to mentor us, help us to round off our rough edges in the creation of a unique gem.

At the Parkdale Food Centre we have seen the immense joy realized as individuals who never thought they could work again, weave their special talents and interesting personalities into employment. We’ve shared  opportunities for Neighbours to thrive through connections with others, skills development, laughter and sharing. It is slow and it’s certainly not perfect, but we have been witness to so many successes.

As we connect Neighbours with programming more and more our goal is to ensure not only that the programming is informed by their needs but, ideally,  that they are the leaders of the programs. Of course, as some programs become Neighbour-led a tension can form around the role that others play. Roles such as “shopping” with Neighbours may not be as prevalent, as Neighbours choose to select their own groceries and “check-out” themselves. Offering employment in the kitchen may affect the number of volunteer supports we require, just as offering Thirteen ASE alumni paid leadership internships has also shifted volunteer engagement.

The Parkdale Food Centre’s journey of transformational change, away from an undignified food banking system to a place of community connection and onwards to social justice action, education and entrepreneurship has been full of growth and learning. We haven’t always seen the path forward clearly but, perhaps, that has been because the road has been both rocky and winding. It isn’t easy to convince others that change is necessary, let alone show them that it is possible.

Make no mistake, what we have built at Parkdale Food Centre we have done together – staff, Neighbours, donors and volunteers. While Covid-19 may have thrown us off track, disconnected us, forced us to lose sight of the goals we had set, it has not defeated us. 

Earlier this week, as I watched my colleagues and Neighbours repaint the Community Fridge and Pantry shed after it was defiled by fire and hate speech, it reminded me how much can be accomplished together, with kindness, understanding and connection. It looks different than it did before, but the change is inviting.

If you want to talk about change, volunteering, programming, or you just want to have lunch, please join me on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 12-2pm. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

Love, Karen Secord

Boiled Potatoes and the Quest For Hope

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?

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.

Spread the impact,  share with your community.

Help Parkdale Food Centre


NEW! Cooking for a Cause Ottawa

By Karen Secord

Covid-19 has amplified food insecurity; meal programs that our most vulnerable neighbours have relied on for nourishment are now closed or functioning with greatly reduced capacity; a once a month “hamper” from a food bank has never been enough; and an onslaught of rapid unanticipated layoffs in the food sector have left many unemployed and/or at risk of losing their businesses.

Parkdale Food Centre, as the lead organization in both the Ottawa Community Food Partnership (OCFP) and FoodRescue.ca (Ottawa), acted quickly to respond to this dual need – food and income security – by leveraging the incredible food industry expertise of our many partners and asking them to make delicious take-home food for outreach workers to deliver to the people who need it most. 

Our mission has been two-fold – to provide people with wholesome food outside of the once a month offerings from food banks and to help food businesses operate during a time that might otherwise be financially devastating. To test the model several businesses began by initiating “GoFundMe” campaigns and using that money to bake bread, make soup and cook take-home meals. Erica, our OCFP Coordinator, created a weekly schedule for pickup and delivery by nurses, community developers, mental health workers, city staff and outreach workers. 

“I have been delivering meals and soups to isolated seniors and they have never eaten so well,” Anne Vilijeon, SWCHC nurse told us  after delivering meals from The Red Apron and soup from Wellington GastroPub. “They say it is delicious.”

At Cornerstone Housing For Women food insecurity is not uncommon. Many of the women go to both the Westboro Region Food Bank and Parkdale Food Centre. This project has meant that they are enjoying fresh bread, baked in the morning and delivered in the afternoon, and that they have prepared meals in the freezer.

Across the city the Heron Road Emergency Food Centre is accepting hearty soups from Marcie’s Cafe, owned by well-known businesswoman, JoAnn Laverty. She quickly ramped up production to provide food for anyone in need in the St. Laurent-Walkley Road corridor and has started stocking the freezers at the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard

We now have 20 social service agencies and 10 food businesses working on the project. Chefs that would have been cooking for a special event are now making hundreds of meals for the safe consumption site at Somerset West Community Health Centre, men at the John Howard Society, or homeless youth.

Within one week of the Covid-19 shutdown we were Cooking for a Cause. Today we delivered 750 meals, 250 litres of soup and 250 loaves of sourdough bread.  This is what community support looks like.