Because of supporters like you, we spent 2017 working with our community to help our most vulnerable neighbours meet their food needs, and find long-term solutions to poverty and food insecurity.
Here are some of our favourite moments.
We had our first ever garden since moving to Pengarth Crt in Lawrence Heights, and were able to run multiple harvest festivals throughout the city.
A joint garden-kitchen program with youth in partnership with PACT at the Lawrence Heights site, teaching kids about the importance of fresh food and healthy eating.
We supported the first ever farmers market at the Bathurst Finch hub, and now there is a weekly good food market on site every Wednesday.
Ensuring consistent service throughout our network of partner agencies
All of our food banks and member agencies are different, but it’s important that no matter where people live in North York that they receive the same standard of service.
This year we also took on a major network wide evaluation of our 19 catchment food banks, based on our Standard of Service. Clients at each site were surveyed and the programs were assigned a score out of 5 on areas such as accessibility, quality and quantity of food, customer service etc. We hope to repeat this assessment on an annual basis.
Our AMAZING donors
As always, our donors blow us away with incredible generosity and support of their community! Young Zack is no different, in just the first grade he’s making a difference for his neighbours. This past holiday season he popped by with cans of tuna that he purchased with his gift money.
Stronger Together: Increasing Services and Impact
We worked with many community agencies to bring enhanced programming and services to our members, including:
Toronto Public Health dental bus at Oriole Food Space. This bus offered free dental care to those who otherwise would go without this necessity!
Smoking cessation workshops
Hearing tests for clients
Diabetes prevention and management programs
We launched the Community Food Works program in partnership with Toronto Public Health’s food strategy at Oriole; a program that teaches food handlers training and food skills to low income individuals. Our pilot at OFS was targeted to Arabic speaking newcomers.
A resident based advocacy and food security program
Several community kitchen programs
Healthy Food Matters! Focusing our Food Drive on Priority Items
This year we worked more intentionally with our fabulous food drive organizers to improve the quality of food we offer to our members. We asked them to hold single food item drives choosing from a list of 5 priority items: Rice, Oil, Canned Beans, Canned Seafood and Canned Tomatoes. These staples are versatile, nutrient-dense foods our network needs to maintain good health. Thanks to our incredible community who helped us answer the call for healthy food!
Leadership in Logistics
With the support from the Metcalf Foundation and The Learning Enrichment Foundation we have launched an exciting new program for individuals currently receiving Ontario Works. Aside from being a stepping stone in breaking the cycle of poverty, the program gives participants a chance to take charge of their own lives with the confidence and training to succeed in promising careers.
Often when we think of poverty, we don’t think about how deep the problem is in our very own backyard.
In North York, poverty hides in high rise apartments, rooming houses and shelters. Often food is the last priority on a long list of bills that must be paid by our neighbours who are struggling to make ends meet each month.
All too often, we hear stories like Holly’s.
“I always thought I could do it on my own. I was able to pay my rent, phone, and medications with the little money I had. Food was always last on my list. Being a type 1 diabetic that takes insulin every day, eating properly is very important. I soon realized that I could not do everything on my own.
I found the food bank and soon found out I was receiving more than help with my food. I found a sense of community”.
Because of skyrocketing housing prices, unsteady employment and social assistance rates that have failed to keep up with the cost of the living in our city – thousands of our neighbours are struggling to get by each day. Together we can change that.
Your support provides more than food. It provides social inclusion through programs like Community Kitchens, employment readiness training like our Leadership in Logistics program and ensures we can continue to invest in long term solutions to end hunger and poverty. We know that food banks alone aren’t the answer. With your help, we can make sure providing essential emergency food support is just the start of the relationship we build with those that need us most.
Comments Off on Setting the Table – The Power of a Meal
A message from Aniska Ali, North York Harvest’s New Director of Development and Marketing
As Thanksgiving approaches, I, like many of you, am preparing to welcome family and friends to my home. Pumpkin printed napkins have been fished out of storage containers, recipes have been bookmarked, and shopping lists have been made. My daughter has been collecting leaves for weeks for our table’s centerpiece, her part of our family’s annual tradition. On Monday, she’ll help set the table, and I’ll fuss in the kitchen, bickering with my husband and my sister about how much sage to add to the stuffing and how frequently to baste the turkey. These are our rituals, these are the acts that make Thanksgiving familiar and special – these are things I’ll remember as time goes by.
Food is a big part of my life. Talking about the power of it, and sadly, the lack of it for so many in our community fills my days. What often gets lost in our rush to make sure there’s enough is an understanding of the role food plays in uniting us. The sharing and enjoyment of a meal is a simple, but profound, pleasure that brings us together, across cultures, ages and backgrounds. Eating together is, and should be, a daily experience of connection.
Unfortunately that is simply not the case for the 15,000 people we serve each month. Skyrocketing housing prices, precarious employment and social assistance rates that have failed to keep up with the cost of the living put the joy food brings out of reach for so many of our neighbours. Sadly, we know all too well that loneliness and isolation go hand in hand with living in poverty.
That’s why North York Harvest offers programs like community kitchens to give people in our neighbourhood a chance to meet friends, cook together, and share a meal in a welcoming place.
As Maudlyn, one of our members and a retired caterer told us recently, “This program is a commitment to myself. It gets me out of the house to socialize with others. My favourite part is actually setting the table, it feels like we are having a real family meal”.
Thank you for making stories like Maudlyn’s possible. Thank you for believing as we do that, everyone deserves a safe place where they can meet people, build friendships, feel included and eat delicious food regardless of their income. Thank you for investing in programs like these that make North York Harvest so much more than a food bank. We hope you know just how much your support means to us and the community we serve.
I’m obsessed with cooking shows. Most recently, it’s been MasterChef Australia. I like it better than the American or Canadian versions because the contestants spend more time cooking. I am constantly amazed by what these amateur cooks can create. More than once I’ve downloaded a recipe and given it a go. 45 step decadent dessert? No problem. Coming right up.
The other day I was chatting about this with some colleagues of mine while we were out to lunch. I love food. I cook all the time. I go out to eat with friends, try new restaurants and often have people over for some fancy meal I am trying to put together. It’s social. It’s inclusive. It’s a big part of my life. But I have to admit that it’s a privilege I have. Not everyone could afford it. In fact, some friends of mine, both of whom work and have two little kids can rarely join me on these food adventures.
We often talk about social inclusion when we talk about living in poverty. It’s hard to be part of society and get engaged in the community when you are struggling to make ends meet. But it’s so important. Life is about MORE than meeting basic needs. Life is about participation, relationships and being part of a greater community.
This is where Food Bank Plus comes in. Several of our agencies have programs focused around food but geared towards social inclusion and community. Their main goal is sharing the #joyoffood.
Earlier this year, Ella Victor, Manager of the Lawrence Heights Community Food Space invited me to check out the new and improved Mission Kitchen program that her team was running. Thanks to our friends at Unileverand Food Banks Canada, they were able to hire a Registered Dietitian, buy kitchen equipment, table settings and real dishes for the program. There’s nothing like a great meal made and shared together with friends!
Ella’s program aims to provide a safe, comfortable and welcoming space for members of the community. Neighbours come together to learn how to make food, prepare recipes and share a meal. Though mostly made up of women in the community, kids will often attend on PD days or when their parents can’t find childcare. Pete, proudly representing his fellow males, is also a resident member. I was lucky enough to join several cooks and was warmly welcomed each time. It was great to meet so many Lawrence Heights Community members – it felt like a little family.
Nisha is the Registered Dietitian working with the program. Each full course meal she plans includes appetizers, a main dish, and a dessert. She tries to incorporate as many items from the food bank as possible focusing on some the clients aren’t sure how to use – such as quinoa, spaghetti squash and rutabaga. The idea is that if they feel comfortable using the items in the group, they’ll be able to use the foods when preparing meals at home.I love discovering new foods – I know it can be daunting to use ingredients that you’ve never tried before but it can also be an adventure and it’s so great when you realize how yummy they are!
“I choose recipes based on healthier cooking techniques such as baking or poaching over any sort of frying. I want to promote healthy eating for everyone and it’s so easy to do,”says Nisha. All of the recipes she chooses are simple but delicious with inexpensive ingredients that can meet multiple dietary needs. If dishes aren’t suitable for some, she makes sure everyone knows – like when she told me not to have the soup because it contained chicken broth – thanks Nisha!
Debra has been attending the program since the beginning. As we were prepping the meal, she told me how much she loves spending time with everyone. She has no relatives in the city and lives on her own so it’s been a great way for her to bond with others. I totally get this. When I first moved to Toronto it was hard not knowing anyone – it was even harder to find new friends. She’s even been trying some of the new skills and recipes at home “I made kale chips at home the other day; it was easy and it’s even a healthy snack!” The program has also introduced her to items she would see in the food bank but didn’t know how to use. One particular item that is finding its way into her kitchen is capers, she loves adding them to her salads.
“This program lifts the community! More people should join us!” Lillian enthusiastically told me when I asked her what she thought of the kitchens.
She always has a big smile on her face and is happy to pose for photos while preparing the meals. Her favourite foods to make in the program are new and creative salads. She’s definitely a people person and loves being around others who share her joy of food.
Maudlyn is a retired caterer and keeps coming every week because it keeps her active. “This program is a commitment to myself. It gets me out of the house to socialize with others! My favourite part is actually setting the table!” I can relate. Table settings seem so simple but they set the ambience. When I have friends over I pay attention to these details. It’s just another way I like to show people that they are important to me. Maudlyn feels the same.
“Setting the table really brings the group together. It makes it feel like we really are a family sharing a meal.”
After every cook the smells in the kitchen were amazing. I couldn’t wait to eat. When all the cooking was finally done – the best part – I got to try everyone’s new creations while getting to know everyone better.
Nisha and Ella also led a talk about nutrition and what foods everyone enjoyed. Participants are also encouraged to bring containers to take any leftovers home. Recipes are also handed out if anyone wants to give it a try at home. “Bringing food home to share with their families is just as important as sharing the meal here,” says Ella.
“They get to take pride in their work and share the joy even further. We also love hearing if their families enjoyed the food as much as we did or what adaptations they make to the recipes the next time they make them.”
Every time I left, I felt inspired, encouraged and stuffed. It was such an amazing sense of togetherness and community. It makes me feel grateful that such programs can exist so that everyone, despite circumstances, can enjoy the joy of food as much as I do.
Without your support, amazing programs like Mission Kitchen couldn’t exist! Even though it is only for a couple of hours each week – it really means a lot to people like Pete, Debra, Lillian, Maudlyn and the others!
Everyone deserves a place where they can safely meet people, build relationships, feel included in society and eat delicious food regardless of their income! If you would like to support programs like this in your community, please make a gift today!