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“While there have been so many new challenges over the last year, I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to work alongside North York Harvest staff and board members to accelerate our work together.” says Habon Ali, North York Harvest’s new board chair.
Habon has been an urban and city building planner in Toronto for nearly a decade. She joined the North York Harvest Board of Directors three years ago to learn more about community-based food models and to support organizations and agencies working directly on food related causes in her neighbourhood.
As board chair, Habon is working with board members to ensure the principles and values of the organization are reflected in decision making. “One of the areas we are focused on is internal board education and board recruitment. We are looking closely at the skills and experiences that we have at the table” she explains, “along with being best positioned to support the organization we also want to ensure that our board reflects the community we serve.”
We recently caught up with Habon for her perspective on the issues surrounding food security post-Covid, and how community partnerships are key to moving forward.
North York Harvest: Why is it important for food banks to have a community connection that goes beyond being an emergency food source?
Habon Ali: We know that food banks initially surfaced to support neighbourhoods and communities with immediate needs and were not intended to be a long-term solution. And while we need to continue providing food support, we also want to be able to help address some of the broader challenges our communities are facing. The work we do with Food Reach is a great demonstration of this because along with being able to support smaller agencies with food needs.
NYH: Food insecurity has become a real-life focus for so many in the past 18 months. As a leader, what learnings have you been able to take away from these times that will continue to strengthen North York Harvest moving forward?
HA: North York Harvest’s ability to pivot and be resilient will continue to build strength. It was incredible to see the Toronto Public Library partnership happen and the connections formed between services that many people see as sometimes operating in silos. We hope we will see more opportunities to leverage these types of partnerships and with connections outside of the food space. The issues and challenges we are facing touch on many other areas, and we are starting to really lean into new synergies and opportunities for cross sector collaboration.
NYH: In what ways can all levels of government, business, and non-profit ensure equitable access to healthy affordable food options?
HA: Part of the work we are seeing is better recognition of the reasons why people in our communities face food challenges which is linked to a lack of sustainable incomes, affordable housing, transportation and childcare. So the conversations we are having are not just about getting food in our warehouses but also about looking at what is keeping people in food insecure positions. By looking at policy decisions and collaborating with other social agencies we are able to take a holistic approach and can work towards creating more equitable and inclusive communities. It’s a big conversation that requires everyone to be involved.
NYH: What excites you most about NYHFB’s future, in particular in a post-pandemic world?
HA: I have been encouraged by conversations about race and anti-oppression and what we can do to support those who have historically been underrepresented in our community. There is an openness and a desire to have tough conversations and integrate what we learn into the work we are doing. I’m excited about the direction these conversations are taking us, and the eagerness to keep this moving forward.
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