Mary’s Story

“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.”

PFC 2014 Facts : By the Numbers

As a way to summarize 2014, we wanted to share some facts with you all. It’s been a busy year for us with many changes, and we’re optimistic that in 2015 we can continue to find more ways to help our neighbours.

20 the number of recurring monthly donors we are lucky to have. We appreciate each one of them that give between $10 and $200 each month. We started 2014 with 3 so we are really proud of that increase!


the average number of visits per month. We anticipate helping 8600 by the end of 2014. That’s a lot of eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, fruit, vegetables and meat!


items purchased since launching our Online Reverse Food truck!! People love being able to choose the exact items they want to donate! Have you seen it yet?


the number of cooking workshops held in 2014 with and average of 15 people each session. This means we had more than 450 people engaged in learning to cook! The area’s best chefs come by and volunteer to cook side by side with our neighbours. After everyone’s hard work, all sit down communally to eat. Then our neighbours go home with the ingredients to the recipe to replicate it at home. People are rediscovering a love of cooking!


the number of events held by or for us during 2014! We are still finding people who don’t know about us! Our role model is always Mayor Jim Watson, who probably does that many events in just a week, but for us we are proud we’ve popped up so many different places to raise awareness to hunger and the need in our little neighbourhood.


the % increase in paid part-time staff. Thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation we now have 2!!


the number of visits from children this year


the number of PFC Patrons on our soon to be unveiled Donor Wall. All have given us tremendous support! It truly takes a village and our patrons allow us to launch new programs, support our goals,and reach more neighbours. We couldn’t run our operations without them.


the number of editions of our newsletter, The Fresh Press that have come out this year. Have you signed up yet? Our next edition comes out in January – don’t miss it! You can sign up to the right of this post.


the number of moves during the year to a new location! We are truly feeling like 30 Rosemount is a perfect fit for us. Come and visit us so you can see the good work and good spirits in action. We’d be happy to give you a tour.

Fun for all at the Second Annual Parkdale Food Centre BBQ


Yesterday we celebrated summer and our wonderful community! Continuing last year’s tradition, we hosted the second annual Parkdale Food Centre Summer BBQ in neighbouring Laroche Park. A beautiful day was made even better by teaming up with our community partners to deliver a magnificent BBQ for PFC clients.


It was all sunshine and fun thanks to an enthusiastic group of volunteers in the kitchen, at the BBQ, serving, cleaning and hoola-hooping! Special thanks to the Merry Dairy for donating 170 servings of ice cream, Hintonburger for donating 100 of their famous burgers, Sue’s amazing Kitchen Team for mounds of pulled pork and countless bowls of salads and condiments, Hidden Harvest for their nut cracking demos, photographer Dwayne Brown and his Love Ottawa Project, Councillor Katherine Hobbs and her staff, the Salvation Army Transition House for music/setup/tear down, the Somerset West Community Health Centre, and Lorrie Marlow of the Mechanicsville Community Association. This day wouldn’t have been possible without any of you!

Photographer Dwayne Brown from Love Ottawa was on-hand to capture some incredible images of PFC clients, staff and friends with the trademark Love-Ottawa giant white canvas. He shared the photos, and some thoughts on the day over at













PFC 2nd Annual BBQ!

J.J.’s Generosity


I met J.J.’s mother at a Taste of Wellington last summer. I was a woman on a mission, spreading the word about poverty and food insecurity in an increasingly affluent Wellington West and Hintonburg. She was innocently trying to nab a free but famous mini Flying Banzini cheesecake.

Months later she was at our door with a wide-eyed J.J. He came to ask me a question. “What can I do to help,” he said somewhat shyly.

I knew he had already done the most important thing…he showed interest.

J.J. listened while I spoke about poverty and poor nutrition, the horror of old school food banking and the joy to be had in sharing. We talked about the meaning of empathy and the importance of caring for others.

J.J.’s father is a dentist. He immediately offered toothbrushes. My eyes lit up because toothbrushes are expensive and when forced to choose between buying whole foods or toothbrushes, real food always wins out.

Last week J.J. turned 10. He remembered what his mother had told him about hunger in his neighbourhood. “I didn’t really need anything,” he told me as his mother handed me a cheque for $120 –the proceeds from his no-present birthday party.

I’m smiling in this photo. But inside I am doing cartwheels. 


Imagine walking into the cafeteria at school, everyone around you is eating. You sit down next to your friend, you don’t have a lunch. They wonder why, you say you’re not hungry, you say you had a big breakfast but the truth is you haven’t eaten since last nights dinner. They accept the answer, not remembering that you didn’t have a lunch yesterday, or the day before, you don’t know if you’ll have one tomorrow.

When you donate to the food bank it has an immediate impact; the food, or money goes straight from you to a person in need. I feel that we are morally obligated to care for people in our community who are going through difficult times; I couldn’t stand the idea of a friend coming to school without anything to eat, or a mother going without dinner so she can feed her children.

I spoke to Karen Secord who runs the Parkdale Food Centre (my local food bank) and asked her a few questions about hunger in our community. Karen said that she works at the food bank because she feels that “when people live in poverty they become invisible” and she doesn’t “want to live in a world that is us and them.”

Karen also told me that we have to make wise choices when donating food. “Why give them Kraft Dinner? I don’t want Kraft Dinner!” She said that when we donate processed food we become part of the problem. We shouldn’t give people food that we don’t want to eat ourselves. It’s important for everyone to eat healthy, nutritious food; as Karen put it, “it’s a basic human right!”

In addition, Karen said that it is exceedingly important for kids (of all ages) to volunteer at the food bank. I believe that you are never too young to want to change the world, and by giving someone food, is one of the easiest ways to do so.

Everyone uses the food bank. The man on your bus, the girl from home room, the mother you see dropping off her kids at school. Collage students, elderly; people you know, and think you have figured out. Without the food bank people would get sick, which would only put more stress on an already stressed health system.

The food bank is not an answer, but for now it’s all we have. For many people it’s the difference between eating and hunger. It’s important to volunteer or to donate healthy, nutritious food to your local food bank. But ultimately, what we need is for people to think. Think of a way to eliminate hunger, especially in a country like Canada, where we have vast resourses and no reason for anyone to be hungry.

Today is different. Today you have a lunch, ham and cheese on whole wheat, with fresh fruit for desert. Today you’ll smile brighter and study harder, because today you don’t have to pretend you’re not hungry; because today you’re not.

Neve Stewart — January 18 2014

Neve and Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre at the Parkdale Food Centre