They say there's no such thing as a free lunch.
The team of volunteers and staff at NorWest Community Food Centre on Tyndall Avenue would disagree.
Not only do they provide a free noon-hour meal three times a week, it's homemade, healthy and offered in a welcoming room flooded with natural light and filled with cheerful chatter.
The centre is part of a national organization that creates welcoming spaces and programs to help communities grow, cook and share good food. On the wall is a colourful fabric map of the Inkster area circa 1970; it's a piece of art, but it also serves as a reminder of how rail lines can create a food desert.
At 11 a.m., chef Grant Mitchell is in the final stages of prepping Friday's feast, which will feed about 80 people, everyone from rambunctious kids on summer break to seniors from the 55-plus building next door.
Mitchell chops chicken to add to the two huge pots of soup that are bubbling on the stove — a smaller saucepan containing a vegetarian version simmers on a back burner — while his volunteer assistant chef, Marsha Barber, slices grilled zucchini into bite-size pieces.
"Anyone is welcome; there is no means assessment," says centre director Lila Knox, donning a hairnet before pulling out stacks of heavy white bowls.
In the garden behind the centre, women are braiding stalks of sweetgrass that grows next to tobacco, sage and cedar. Raised beds contain herbs that are used by Mitchell in his dishes; the rest of the garden produce will be sold at the centre's weekly low-cost farmers market.
By 11:40, the room is filling up, the beautiful round tables of reclaimed barn wood surrounded by neighbours catching up and drinking coffee while they wait for service; no one lines up here.
"Does everyone know their tables?" Mitchell asks the volunteer greeters/servers, including two young women working their first shifts. "We've got a chicken hot-and-sour soup; it's a little bit spicy."
Four huge flatbread pizzas, topped with mozzarella and homemade arugula pesto — made from a crop donated by a community member — fill the air with a garlicky aroma as they're pulled from the oven and placed on the gleaming stainless steel counter of the open kitchen.
At noon, the trays are loaded up with fragrant soup and hot 'za. Lunch is served.
— Jill Wilson
Photography by Ruth Bonneville