Western Canada’s first community food centre officially opened its doors in the Burrows-Keewatin neighbourhood on March 13.
NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre (103-61 Tyndall Ave.) is a project of NorWest Co-op Community Healthy, in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada. The 4,000-square-foot centre, which took two years to complete, becomes the fifth community food centre in Canada and the first west of Ontario.
Nick Saul, president and chief executive officer of Community Food Centres Canada, said the country’s first community food centre, The Stop, opened in Toronto’s Davenport West neighbourhood in 2001.
Since then, Community Food Centres Canada has worked to open centres in Stratford and Perth, Ont.,and, in September, a centre launched in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood.
Saul said a centre will soon open in Dartmouth, N.S. and the organization is planning to open locations in Hamilton and Calgary.
"If I were at a dinner party and someone asked me ‘What do you do?’ and I didn’t know them from a hole in the ground, I’d say we build community centres in low-income areas around this idea that food is a powerful way to build health, hope, skills, self-worth and sustainability, as well as pleasure, joy and laughter," Saul said.
"All of our other centres are located in places where people need support. They are places people can come and feel like they’re a part of building something."
Kristina McMillan, NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre director, said community food centres, while based on core Community Food Centres Canada principles, vary from site to site.
"The core components are a drop-in meal program, cooking classes, gardening programs and food advocacy activities but that looks different in every community. Each site, ours included, has really tailored that model for the local community."
NorWest is concerned with the Inkster community, which includes the areas of Inkster East (Brooklands, Burrows-Keewatin, Inkster Industrial Park, Pacific Industrial, Shaughnessy Park, Weston and Weston Shops) and Inkster West (Inkster Gardens, North Inkster, Oak Point Highway and Tyndall Park).
When it comes to food, McMillan said low income is a challenge for many Inkster residents, especially in the Weston, Brooklands and Burrows-Keewatin neighborhoods. McMillian said approximately one-quarter of Inkster families are low-income and a staggering 46 per cent of single individuals in Inkster are low-income.
"Part of why NorWest wanted to pursue (a community food centre) is that we’re seeing large amounts of people come through the door seeking support to manage their diabetes," said McMillan, noting that 10.7 per cent of Inkster’s population has diabetes.
"We also have lots of people coming through our door struggling to feed their families paycheque to paycheque, knowing they should feed their kids healthy fruit and veggies but not being able to afford to do that.
"Or its people just not knowing how to cook."
NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre will offer a diabetes cooking group and 13 other programs, including a free community lunch, a kids’ smoothie drop-in, a community action program and a Filipino families cooking group.
The centre contains 11 dining room tables made from reclaimed wood, with enough seating for 90 people. The centre’s commercial kitchen, which is visible from the dining room, contains a 17-foot-long island for cooking classes. McMillan said a portion of the island can be lowered for kids and people in wheelchairs.
The centre’s backyard contains raised garden beds and an outdoor pizza bake oven, as well as fruit trees and berry bushes planted by volunteers in the fall.
McMillan said the centre and its programming was designed with input from 575 community members during community consultations in 2013. Apart from health and low-income related concerns, McMillan said Inkster residents expressed a desire for a less divided community.
"They see the neighbourhood as sometimes being quite divided between cultural communities and see food as a way to connect," McMillan said.
"I had a funny moment when doing a consultation with Willow Centre seniors where I had about 30 seniors sitting in one room who don’t often get together all at once. One person put up their hand and said ‘I make good bannock and I know those ladies on the first floor make those little Filipino noodles, how come we can’t teach each other those things?’
"That’s exactly what we want to help you to do, come together and get to know your neighbours."
Community journalist — The Times
Jared Story is the community journalist for The Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7206