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

Where caring comes from and where it can take us

Published in the Kitchissippi Times – December 2020

Karen Secord, Executive Director, Parkdale Food Centre, reminisces about poverty and how an individual’s innate kindness and compassion can create a ripple effect throughout a community.

There are some memories that are more than reels of movie footage haphazardly assembled in your minds eye; the way my Nanny built her life around the tiny northern New Brunswick community of Atholville is like that for me.

It was a working man’s town, where the goings-ons at the pulp and paper mill decided whether or not people had a job and what their children ate the following week. I remember the air smelled and snow banks were so high we couldn’t open the front door.

My Pops was a Hennessey, Irish through and through, with rough hands a devilish grin and musicality that exploded into many a jig and lively song during their infamous kitchen parties. My Nanny was a Boudreau and her fingers wore the sheen off her rosary, her kindness for her community was unmatched.

Even though my parents had moved away from the maritimes after my birth, we visited often during the first decade or so of my life. I didn’t know Nanny and Pops were “poor” until much later. I don’t think I would have believed it had someone told me, or maybe I just didn’t know or care about being poor. After all, I never saw them want for anything. Their big house and even bigger hearts were all I needed at the time.

My Nanny spent her days standing by the stove kneading bread or making dumplings to go on top of the bubbling sticky potatoes, cabbage and carrots that she called stew. We would devour the bread crusts soaked in hot milk with brown sugar for lunch or before bed. I thought it was so yummy and wondered why my parents didn’t provide that for my meals at home. It was the love and kindness in sharing food that filled my belly, I know that now.

Nanny didn’t make small batches of anything. Everything she made was large and meant to share. Extra bread and biscuits with preserves or pickles might be sent with Pops to the family a few doors down. Or, maybe half the pot of stew was headed to the lady with a newborn and a husband out of work. She made molasses cookies, too. My mouth waters just imagining them, even after fifty years. Many neighbours received a parcel of Nan’s special molasses cookies for no reason other than they were neighbours.

I wonder sometimes how these early lessons have shaped my approach to life; how much of my Nan’s simple, uncomplicated kindness and my Pop’s zest for socializing have been grafted onto my soul.

As the Executive Director at the Parkdale Food Centre (PFC), our mission is just this. Creating community and ensuring we are all part of it. Neighbour to Neighbour. As we head into December,I find it difficult to ignore that hundreds of families in Ottawa are homeless and will spend the holidays in motel rooms or other impractical spaces; that many were there in 2019 and some even in 2018.

At PFC, we are reminded almost daily that it is impossible to prepare and serve a nutritious family meal, let alone a festive meal, when a microwave is your primary cooking appliance. I cried in disbelief when a woman told me that her family of six had rice for their Christmas meal in 2019, while only a short distance away there was a community holiday celebration where they would have been welcome. But no one thought to invite them.

Covid-19 has complicated everything. Enjoying a holiday meal on Christmas day in the company of others likely won’t be safe. Since this began, the winter season, the holiday season has been looming. The Parkdale Food Centre has grappled with the seemingly impossible predicament of how to serve delicious meals in the winter, while respecting Ottawa Public Health guidelines. Many of the people we serve have health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable and their disability income ($1,169) or Ontario Works ($733) doesn’t offer them the luxury to purchase much after rent is paid. Food, let alone healthy food is often not an option.

I won’t lie and tell you everything is going to be alright because I don’t know that it will. The number of people requiring help is increasing weekly. The cost of food is expected to rise this winter. The Parkdale Food Centre gives each person a robust order of good food once a month and we offer take-home meals, and cooking classes several times a week. Although we rescue food, buy wholesale and in bulk, our grocery bill is enormous.

We need your help. Sixty percent of our funding comes from you, our neighbours.

I can tell you that, like my grandparents did all those years ago, our team at the Parkdale Food Centre will do everything we can to ensure that anyone who needs food assistance is also given kindness, compassion and, often, really amazing bread.

Visit us at parkdalefoodcentre.ca or call 613-722-8019 to donate.

COVID-19 and the right to food

After three decades of shuffling discarded and donated food from the “haves” to the “have-nots”, Parkdale Food Centre abandoned it’s old vision and values and began to speak the truth: food banking is driven more strongly by models of corporate greed and inflated egos, than by values that recognize the right to healthy and nutritious food for all as a basic human right. We became social justice activists the day we refused to simply dole out scraps that often were not even meal-worthy.
Instead, we began cooking with our neighbours and eating together as a community, created programming that strengthened community engagement, asked the difficult questions and included many in the answers- most of whom are often left out in food banking, changed our mission, and believed in a better and more equitable system. The invitation to join the newly-formed Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice gives our small, but mighty grassroots organization an opportunity to share ideas and join forces with other like-minded researchers, academics and hard workers to build an exit strategy to food banking. Below is the blog, which announces the launch of the alliance.

~ Karen Secord, Executive Director, Parkdale Food Centre

For any inquiries regarding Parkdale Food Centre’s involvement in the alliance, contact: karen@parkdalefoodcentre.org

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Exploring the emergence of a Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice
#RightsNotCharity

Around the world, COVID-19 is shaking the foundation of our globalized economic system to its core. The “richest” countries in the world are staring into the face of an economic depression. In the United States, more than 38 million people across the nation applied for unemployment benefits in the last seven weeks alone, and millions more are expected to lose their jobs in the weeks to come. Officially, the unemployment rate in Canada has jumped to nearly 13% – more than any jump during the three major recessions since the 1980s. Meanwhile, economists in Canada agree that these figures do not capture the severity of the crisis when you factor in the erosion of employment insurance since the 1970s and the current ratio of housing costs to income. In the UK, unemployment has soared past three million people for the first time in 30 years.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive expansion of food charities. In the US, appeals for donations to food charities are a new media constant, and the government is relying heavily upon food banks to redirect agricultural waste. In Canada the federal government has allocated 50 million dollars to shore up the struggling food bank system. Food pantries and food banks were not a regular feature of life in the United Kingdom until 10 years ago.

Now, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) have reported that independent food banks operating across the UK have seen a major rise in emergency food parcel distribution since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Almost a third of organisations experienced rises of 100% or more comparing figures for the months of March 2019 and March 2020. This crisis-within-a-crisis is accelerating the institutionalization of food banking in several countries, as a means of plastering over the gap between need and insufficient income for millions.

Following this pandemic (and already in motion) will be an equally staggering rise in food insecurity across the globe. COVID-19 has brought us to the proverbial crossroads. For several decades our governments have been abdicating their role to ensure the right to food for our nations, increasingly foisting this role onto the private sector. As a result, widespread food insecurity and wealth inequality has grown in our countries. The COVID-19 crisis has made evident that this ‘normal’ is no longer tenable. We are witnessing a private charitable feeding system that has for too long filled the protective role of government pushed to its limits. This is in combination with vertically integrated just-in-time food supply chains that are fraying at the edges. Such consequences are exposing the true extent – and root causes – of the hunger problem in these rich-but-unequal countries.

Make no mistake – this is not a new crisis, but a deepening of fault lines that millions of working families and low-income people have been straddling for the past 40 years. COVID-19 is heightening this decades-old crisis, deepening those cracks, and finally letting enough light in for all to see and experience deep contradictions in our food and social welfare systems and the uneven distribution of wealth that it begets. This voracious extractive economy we’ve been feeding is about to burst at the seams. It’s time for us to reach beyond our nation-states and mobilize, organize, and get loud together as a growing internationalist movement envisioning a different kind of world that centers people over profits and rebuilds the social contract.

Enter the newly named Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice. This group of non-governmental organizations, national networks, grassroots activists, and scholars began to emerge two years ago out of relationships built at Trans-Atlantic conferences and meetings, resulting in a growing shared analysis of and reaction to the increased use of private philanthropy and transnational corporate food banking as a response to “rich world” hunger and poverty.

Much of this analysis has a long-standing history; we’ve seen writing about the international dimensions of food charity since the 1980s, but the lasting effects of the 2008 global recession, together with the acceleration and expansion of the Global Foodbanking Network, which has evolved to disperse the charitable food model across the world, and have led to our renewed focus in organising around these issues.

While the structural issues that this alliance addresses are global, the proliferation of institutionalized corporate food banking, private philanthropy, food banks, and other “emergency measures” as permanent responses to poverty and food insecurity originated in the United States, before spreading to Canada and, since the mid 1980s, have steadily advanced across Europe and other parts of the globe. These solutions have never addressed the root causes of food insecurity, and oftentimes exacerbate poverty. They have allowed governments to look the other way, ignoring income policies and human rights, all the while creating greater openings for the corporate capture of public policy and funding, as well as contributing to the downfall of the welfare state.

This particular analysis is currently missing, or not prominently understood, in the global movements for the right to food and food sovereignty. This #RightsNotCharity alliance seeks to complement and amplify the ongoing work of powerful grassroots networks and movements at national, regional, and global levels that are addressing food systems, public health inequities, poverty reduction and social security.

The Global Solidarity Alliance’s focus on so-called “wealthy” countries is a means to build a shared understanding among those in North America and Europe – especially among those who are on the frontlines and work alongside those most impacted by hunger and poverty — of the patterns of destructive policies which have taken hold in North America and are being replicated without criticism in European Countries, and beyond. We seek to build together collective strategies of resistance and alternative models and practices to promote the fulfillment of the right to nutritious food in our respective parts of the world. We also want to invite participation from beyond North America and Europe. In so doing, we will be better prepared to accompany our global allies who have long felt the perverse effects of resource extraction and colonialism by our governments and open collective pathways to authentically struggle for food sovereignty as a right of all people everywhere.
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Here’s what some of the co-founders of the emerging Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice have to say about its potential:

“For the past decade in the UK, emergency food provision has grown, and is becoming an ever more normalized ‘response’ to poverty and insecurity, as we’ve seen in a North American context over a longer time period. Now more than ever, emergency food is playing a key role in responding to the needs of those most vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Whilst these responses are currently much-needed, the idea of charitable food as an ‘emergency’ must be re-framed; especially important in a (post) COVID-19 context, where the entrenchment and corporatization of food aid are becoming more critical and prominent. Whilst this situation is likely to intensify further as we enter a period of deepening inequality and precarity, there are genuine opportunities for change – something this growing alliance makes possible.” – Dr. Kayleigh Garthwaite, Birmingham Fellow in the Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology, Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) Trustee and author of Hunger Pains: Life inside foodbank Britain.

“The right to food exists in Canada and has since 1976. It does not mean that the government is required to give out free food. Rather, the government is obliged to create the conditions for people to be able to access good, nutritious, affordable food with dignity, now and in the future. Successive governments, however, have failed to meet these obligations. Covid-19 has the potential of further enshrining food charity as our default response to the almost 4.5 million Canadians that are food insecure. Politicians encourage donations to food banks and themselves wrestle over the opportunity to be photographed sorting what amounts to corporate waste and other people’s leftovers, while ignoring the structural barriers preventing people from accessing their right to food. Food banks have only been a part of the Canadian landscape since 1981, but yet they are so deeply entrenched that not one organization or institution is able to fight back against this neo-liberal response to hunger. The Global Solidarity Alliance is pushing back against this pervasive narrative and gives me great hope.” – Paul M. Taylor, Executive Director, FoodShare Toronto

“The Global Solidarity Alliance is offering a unique space for building a shared analysis and coordinated action among those advocating for the right to nutritious food amidst the growing entrenchment, legitimization and spreading of private charity as an acceptable response to hunger in countries of high wealth. As we weave together and amplify the stories, experiences and visions for justice from our own communities, we will be prepared to align and build with social movements in the struggle for food sovereignty worldwide.” – Alison M. Cohen, Senior Director of Programs, WhyHunger

“The work of the Global Solidarity Alliance is crucial in these unprecedented times where inequalities are exposed, revealing deep structural violence against the impoverished, disabled, children, Black and other racially minoritised and marginalised people. With millions more thrust into poverty and unable to afford food the charitable food model proliferates with the consolidation of Big Food and the increasing corporate capture of food aid. The broad experience and expertise of the Alliance offers thought and practise leadership in developing and modeling solutions for a just discovery.” – Dee Woods FRSA, Food and Farming Action-ist, co-chair Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), and co-founder of the African and Caribbean Heritage Food Network

“Food charities should not have to carry the burdens of reconciling glaring contradictions between food waste and hunger. Over the past 40 years, states, private businesses and philanthropists have invested billions of dollars into a food banking infrastructure to resolve the inefficiencies of an economic model that produces want amidst plenty. Food banks have grown into critical nodes of our global food supply chains as farmers, food manufacturers and retailers are increasingly relying on poverty and hunger to mitigate their own risks of financial loss. The moral impulse to address hunger should not neutralize our moral outrage over a food system that fixes unsustainable levels of overproduction by growing its feeding lines. The global solidarity alliance works to rewrite the call to charity toward food justice and push back against monopolistic dynamics that currently limit our collective power to enact food sovereignty”. – Joshua Lohnes, Food Policy Research Director, West Virginia University – Center for Resilient Communities

“Long lines at food banks have become an icon of the Covid-19 pandemic, side by side with pictures of milk dumped on the fields and vegetables plowed under. People are rightly outraged by the massive waste amid distressing need, but the answer is not for our societies to become even more dependent upon food banks. The pandemic has revealed both the utter inadequacy of our social safety net and the fragility of our highly concentrated food system. When four companies control 80 % of the meat processing in the US, is it any wonder that there are “disruptions” in our supplies? When legislatures make even the most minimal social support contingent on the fulfillment of work requirements, is it any wonder that people are destitute in the richest nations in the history of the world? In order to secure the human right to food, we need to develop a reliable income security policy on the one hand, and a network of resilient, sustainably produced, local and regional food supplies on the other. I welcome the Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health, and Social Justice as a forum in which we can collaborate to address both sides of the food security challenge. We need rights, not charity”. -Jan Poppendieck, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Hunter College, City University of New York and author, Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement (Penguin, 1999) and Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression (University of California Press, 2014).

“Widespread hunger and food insecurity in today’s rich world are markers of the moral vacuum at the centre of forty years of neoliberalism. As governments have neglected their human rights obligations under international law, charitable food banking fed by Big Food and corporate philanthropy in the USA, Canada and the UK – indeed across the OECD – have become the band aid food safety net for broken systems of income security. This outsourcing of rights based social policy has enabled ineffective and stigmatising food handouts to replace income security for those in need. Food banking is a failed response, incapable of ensuring food security for the jobless, the homeless and those on low incomes. The catastrophe of Covid-19 now reveals the true extent of the public health emergency and the crisis of income inequality and material deprivation plaguing our wealthy societies. The Global Solidarity Alliance for Food, Health and Social Justice intends to inform and educate by holding government and public policy to account. Please join. #RightsNotCharity!” – Graham Riches, Professor Emeritus of Social Work, University of British Columba, author of Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis (Ottawa: CCSD 1986) and Food Bank Nations. Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food (Routledge, 2018)

“The Global Solidarity Alliance is creating the space to unwind common understandings related to food insecurity. The goal is to change the narrative-moving away from charity as the solution to hunger to understanding the root causes of hunger and shifting policy, practice, and investments towards building a more equitable and resilient food system for all.” – Jennifer Zuckerman, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Duke University World Food Policy Center

“Covid-19 is the crisis-within-a-crisis that highlights and exacerbates the contradictions of a profit-prioritising food system that produces both waste and hunger. We have seen millions of animals slaughtered due to loss of market value and highly concentrated slaughtering facilities at a time of overwhelming demand for emergency food, an eerie echo of 1930s America when baby hogs were liquefied to forestall market gluts at a time of visible destitution. This politically-embarrassing contradiction between excess and scarcity, as Janet Poppendieck and others have long documented, has been alleviated by ever-expanding private food charity. Covid-19 is a klaxon call to attend to food production systems that damage ecosystems (and exacerbate pandemic risks) yet have consistently failed to ensure everyone an affordable, nutritious, desirable diet. Many working and volunteering for food charities agree that they cannot be the key response to hunger; the Global Solidarity Alliance will galvanise the vital role of government as well as partnerships between producers, campaigners, researchers and the many people fighting for a food future that’s fair for all.” – Charlie Spring, Research Associate interested in international food charity, University of Calgary and Greater Manchester Food Poverty Alliance.


Stay tuned: A website and social media presence is coming soon. If you’d like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you – including groups beyond the UK, US and Canada.

Contact:

Alison Meares Cohen, WhyHunger, alison@whyhunger.org

Paul Taylor, FoodShare Toronto, paul@foodshare.net

Kayleigh Garthwaite, University of Birmingham, K.Garthwaite@bham.ac.uk

Below are some of the most recent articles published by members of the Global Solidarity Alliance:

Dr. Maddy Power, University of York: COVID-19 exposes inequalities in the UK food system, new analysis reveals

Paul Taylor, FoodShare Toronto: Pandemic has exposed the rifts in our social fabric

Andrew Fisher, author of Big Hunger: The COVID Crisis Is Reinforcing the Hunger Industrial Complex

Graham Riches, author of Food Bank Nations: Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food: How Food Banks Prop up a Broken System

Dr. Kayleigh Garthwaite: It’s not the hungry who gain most from food banks – it’s big business |

Maggie Dickinson and Joshua Lonnes: Where Do Food Banks Fit in to the Fight for a Green New Deal?

Sabine Goodwin, IFAN: Between the devil and the deep blue sea