Comments Off on “I wanted to make sure others have the same chance I did.” – How Theresa Pays it Forward
Asking for help is hard.
When Theresa visited our Lawrence Heights Community Food Space for the first time, her hands were shaking. “I was so embarrassed to have to ask for food,” she remembers. The single mother was desperately in need of help to put food on her table, but we often hear, Theresa felt ashamed of her situation.
Theresa’s situation, however, is not unlike the ones many others face in Toronto. “I was new to the city. I came here because I thought I’d be able to find work. But it was harder than I expected.” Because of the generosity of our community, Theresa was greeted warmly by Julie, our Food Bank Manager.
She walked away with the food she needed and a new sense of belonging. Just like 1 in 3 of our clients, Theresa wanted to “pay it forward”. Even though she was in a time of personal crisis, she was determined to give back so others could receive the same help she had. She became a volunteer to create a safe, friendly space for her neighbours who were also struggling.
“I told Julie to call me whenever she needed help – day or night. I wanted to make sure others have the same chance I did. I know this community needs help, so I’m helping in the way I can,” Theresa insists with a shy smile.
Stories like Theresa’s happen at North York Harvest agencies every day. Emergency food assistance makes life a little better and restores a sense of purpose and hope. People come in for help and find a community.
Your support makes sure that providing emergency food support is just the beginning of our relationship with people like Theresa. And just like you, Theresa is committed to building a healthier Northern Toronto.
Will you join Theresa and give what you can to make sure our community members in need can find healthy food across Northern Toronto?
Sometimes little things and family traditions can make a big impact.
Not too long ago I had a chance to meet with one of our many wonderful donors; to get to know her and her family a little better and understand why they choose to give to North York Harvest.
Meet Lynn & Andrew.
I stopped by their home in North York one afternoon as Lynn was preparing a spaghetti dinner for her son Andrew before he headed off to Air Cadets.
Lynn, a lawyer and community volunteer, has always wanted her son Andrew to know that he has advantages that other people right in his own community do not have. Lynn told us that when Andrew was as young as five years old he was already making a difference and giving to the food bank. “Every time we went to the grocery store, Andrew would pick groceries out to donate for little boys his own age. We called it ‘The Little Boy Box’.”
That sense of giving back to his community never left Andrew. Years later he joined his classmates during a volunteer session at North York Harvest. He enjoyed his experience so much that he became a summer volunteer at the Lawrence Heights Community Food Space to help his neighbours access healthy food.
Andrew’s commitment inspired Lynn to become a NYHFB supporter. “It’s sad to see that some families don’t have enough. We all deserve to have our basic needs met. I feel good knowing that my donations will go towards helping people in need,” shares Lynn. “Anybody could need a food bank at any time. This shouldn’t be the norm.”
Giving back to the community and ensuring their neighbours meet their food needs continues to be a tradition.
And even though Andrew is all grown up, Lynn makes sure to put a few extra items in her cart for the “Little Boy Box” when she’s at the grocery store.
Do you want to get more involved like Lynn and Andrew? We’d love to have you join us!
Comments Off on A Community of Food and Friendship
Community. Every day I hear the word. But what does it mean to be a community? The dictionary defines it as “a social group whose members reside in a specific locality, share government and often have a common cultural and historical heritage”. Sure, that’s an okay definition but it also sounds pretty boring right?
At North York Harvest, we focus on community as part of our mission. It means more than just a boring definition – it means people coming together to make something incredible happen. It’s about respect, sharing, thoughtfulness and dignity.
One such community group in the NYH family has shown those incredible qualities and more.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Norma who resides in Lawrence Heights. This amazing woman brought her community together and is making a huge impact in the lives of others. Norma saw a need in her neighbourhood. She noticed that many of the seniors living in the area survive on very low incomes and, living alone, dealt with fear, depression, rejection and isolation. She realized that she could make a difference.
From gardening and grocery shopping, to coming for a visit and having a cup of coffee with them, Norma has been volunteering to support seniors in Lawrence Heights for years.
Quickly she realized she could bring her community together through the joy of food. When I asked her why food was so important, she told me, “The isolation these seniors feel can cause malnutrition. They are depressed and lonely so having them get together for a meal nourishes more than their bodies, it nourishes their hearts. I try to put myself in their shoes. I hope there is a program for me when I am that age.”
With the help of her neighbours, she put together a social lunch on Mondays for the seniors in her community. She reached out to NYH for food support – and because of your generosity, we were able to provide the ingredients for these meals. They were provided with fresh produce, meat, dairy and canned goods. Your support has also given them the opportunity to start a Wednesday coffee club as well as put on a couple of community barbecues.
I didn’t realize that many of the members of this group suffer from strokes, diabetes, mental illness or do not have the ability to cook for themselves. Norma told me how important the lunches and coffee dates are for seniors to get together in a place that is safe and welcoming.
“Many of the residents are afraid of getting out there because of their age, vulnerability, illness, mobility, depression or isolation. This type of activity gets them out of the house so they can interact with others who understand them. They feel respected.” This is what building community is really about.
She told me about the first meal the group had together and they enjoyed chicken noodle soup. They were delighted to enjoy a fresh cooked meal. “I was almost in tears when a client told me she couldn’t remember the last time she had homemade soup.” The idea of having a homemade bowl of soup may not seem like much, but to others it can mean the world.
As I listened to Norma share, I could hear her passion for these seniors and the role this program plays in their lives. “At the Canada Day barbecue, one of the seniors known for not being very interactive with others was dancing and having a great time. Another lady that can barely walk was dancing and holding hands with her son.”
I asked her how long she’d like to keep this program going – her answer … FOREVER. Her goal is to continue this program as long as the program has the resources to do so.
“We have a social responsibility to our seniors. We were dependent on our elders as children and one day we will be dependent on others. Every bit helps. Everyone involved can do wonders.”
Thanks to your generous support, NYH is able to welcome wonderful initiatives and community programs into our family. Programs like this prove what a community really is.
That’s so much more touching than a boring definition.
To support programs just like this one, please make a gift today!
As we get back into our day to day routines after the holidays, I start thinking about the year that has passed as well as what the new year will offer.
I am pleased to share with you my highlights of the year as well as the plan for the upcoming months – there is a lot to look forward to and I would love for you to get involved in any way you can!
Some of my favourite highlights of 2016 really represented the mission of NYH, which includes providing dignified food assistance, education and long-term food solutions.
A New Home for Lawrence Heights Community Food Space
Lawrence Heights Community Food Space moved into 6 Pengarth Court. This was truly a community-led initiative: a team from Bombardier Aerospace’s nearby facility came in to freshen the place up with some new paint, which made it really feel like a home. We also strengthened our relationships with local Lawrence Heights community agencies as we were back in the neighbourhood. The I’m Lawrence program helped us out with installing ramps and railings to aid with our accessibility issues.
We have been more involved with LH related community programming, attending community safety meetings, LHION meetings and forums and bringing the perspective of food security to the community agency table.
The waiting space in the new site is not as large as it was in our previous location, so we created an appointment system to better manage the flow of clients. This allows more dignified food access for everyone, allowing them a private time to use the food bank, one on one time with volunteers and staff as well as safety from the elements as they will not need to wait outside.
A Growing Partnership
Since moving into 116 Industry Street, the Learning Enrichment Foundation and North York Harvest have been committed to strengthening our communities through food and education.
Last year not just one, but two major programs came out of the partnership.
Child Care Food Delivery
As a food bank, NYH transports food to those in need throughout the community. It was only a natural step to join LEF in providing healthy meals to children in childcare. Each day LEF prepares meals and snacks for children from low income families that are in daycare while their parents go to work – and NYH makes sure that the meals reach their destination. Over 1,400 children are served daily through this program.
Logistics Essentials Program
Building on our mission to deliver long-term solutions to combat poverty, we put in place a new program to provide technical training and personal development to low income individuals. The course runs for 13 weeks in our warehouse serving the immediate needs of food bank clients through training. Each year 48 people will receive skills and certifications all geared towards securing stable employment upon completion of the course. Stay tuned to hear about the first graduating group of students!
Moving forward with LEF, we will continue working together to lift individuals out of poverty in the city.
In response to the growing number of individuals that need to use a food bank in our city, we embarked on a new project – to ensure we have a supply of quality food for people that are in need. After consulting with our agencies and clients on their specific food needs, we partnered with Foodshare and Foodstarter, and created a new product – a delicious Moroccan-Style Lentil Soup. This soup is suitable for anyone as it is vegetarian, high in fibre and protein as well as low in calories with no added sugars, salts, flavours, colours or preservatives.
Together with the help of students and volunteers, we were able to produce a first run of the soup that will be sold by FoodShare. For every soup sold, another will be provided to the food bank, ensuring everyone will have access to a healthy, easy to prepare and delicious meal.
Currently we are looking to partner with a school in order to use the soup production and sale process as part of an educational program. This soup program is community oriented, sustainable and provides a long term food solution to the public.
Letting People Be Heard
In 2015 the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy was passed during a city council meeting. The goal of the strategy is to address immediate needs such as housing, transportation and food insecurity. I was able to attend a meeting regarding the strategy with NYH Board Chair, Kerry Mitchell to share the perspective of our clients with the mayor and city council. While we work very hard to advocate on behalf of our clients, we also want to establish processes and forums for clients to advocate on their own behalf and share their stories with our city’s decision makers.
This year we are putting together a Speaker’s Bureau within the North York Harvest Food Bank network. This will enable individuals that are experiencing poverty or living in poverty and using programs such as food banks to have their voice be heard as well as amplify the collective voice of our clients. We hope that this program will educate our community and provide more insight into the lives of those we serve.
I am truly looking forward to what we have in store for the upcoming year!
What most interests you about these subjects? Is there something else that we’re missing? Want to get involved? Let YOUR voice be heard and let me know by dropping me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2016 has come to a close. It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it? Whether you had a great year or can’t wait for 2017 to start, we can all agree that a lot has happened over the past 365 days.
Here at NYH, there has been a lot of excitement and progress over the past year. We’ve seen many accomplishments and triumphs thanks to our amazing clients, volunteers, donors, staff and supporters! We wouldn’t have had such a terrific year without YOU!
I asked my colleagues in the office, warehouse and on the front lines what their favourite memories of 2016 were and got quite an impressive response!
I considered doing one of those end of year top ten lists but then realized that I can’t decide which is the best one! So here, in no particular order, are some of the great milestones, achievements and moments from 2016!
2016 was BIG for programs, partnerships, feedback and healthy eating!
Of course I couldn’t start off without saying THANK YOU for providing food to people in our community! This year we served more than 15,000 people every month and distributed over 2.3 MILLION lbs. of food!
On top of putting food on the table for our neighbours in need, there were many other exciting things happening this year, including:
Child Care Food Delivery
This year NYH partnered with Learning Enrichment Foundation to bring healthy meals and snacks to over 1400 kids in childcare programs throughout the city.
For 3 months this year, NYH was able to run a community kitchen in the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood. Each week, participants came together to learn cooking skills and enjoy a meal together. Learn more about Mission Kitchen here!
Food Handling Certificates and Meal Programs
The Oriole Food Space ran a series of community kitchen programs in partnership with Flemingdon Health Centre and Working Women Community Centre, particularly aimed at Syrian refugees. We trained a group of almost 20 Arabic speaking newcomers in food handling and food safety, necessary skills in securing employment in the food sector.
This year NYH got into the exciting world of food production! We partnered with FoodShare & Foodstarter to form a unique partnership to produce a soup that would help our community meet their food needs. With the help of students and volunteers, we were able to produce a dry lentil soup that will be sold through FoodShare’s Good Food Boxes & Grab Some Good pop up markets. Each soup sold will put a soup on the food bank shelf for someone hungry in the community.
Toronto Star Santa Hampers
This was first year we were able to distribute a healthier hamper for those receiving the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund Hampers. Every hamper included perishable items including eggs, cheese, apples and more!
Many of our clients were able to visit community farms in and around the city to see first hand where some of the fresh and nutritious produce that goes to their table comes from.
A comprehensive client survey was conducted in our food banks. Results are being put together now and will be used to guide future programming to ensure clients receive the best service possible!
Logistics Essentials Workforce Development
Using our warehouse space, we have embarked on a training program for low income individuals to learn skills for the workplace. Students will learn technical and employments skills as well as receiving certification for Forklift driving, safe food handling and WHMIS.
Lawrence Heights Community Food Space found a new home at 6 Pengarth Court. LHCFS is also our first community food space to move to the new appointment based model. This allows clients to have an appointment at the food bank to ensure less wait time, giving them better access to services and supports, and a personal touch.
Our frontline staff have had extensive training over the past year in non-violent conflict resolution, working in communities that experience gun violence, trauma informed care, food handlers certificates, developing a community of practice, program development, evaluation and implementation
This year we were honoured with the Advocacy Award from the Ontario Association of Food Banks recognizing our efforts towards addressing hunger in the community.
This year we celebrated our donors at Taylor’s Landing. It was a great opportunity to connect with some amazing people that are helping us provide our services in the community.
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!
New Year’s resolutions are very common to make at this time of year. I have definitely thought of a couple for myself, and it has probably crossed your mind as well. Most of the popular resolutions are to get out of debt, volunteer more, get fit, quit smoking or save money.
As a new member of the North York Harvest family, I was curious about our New Year’s Resolutions for a city where no one goes hungry. I sat down with our Executive Director, Ryan Noble, to chat about what is in store for North York Harvest Food Bank in 2016. These are some of the main things we will be partnering with our donors, community and agencies in 2016
Find a new home for the Lawrence Heights Food Bank
Our Lawrence Heights Community Food Bank, used to be at our old location in Lawrence Heights. We were unable to have the food bank come with us to 116 Industry Street. It needed to stay in that area to provide service to the many clients who relied on it for food support. With space in our old neighborhood difficult to find, we were able to find a home nearby that promised to be a good solution. Yet two major issues that our food bank clients face is the cost of transportation and disability. The majority of the 2,000 clients who access this food bank living in Lawrence Heights found it difficult to get there. We quickly recognized that to ensure clients would be able to access the food bank it would need to move back to the Lawrence Heights community. With the support of our staff, volunteer leaders and the Lawrence Heights community, we have been working on a solution that would provide us with an accessible space right back in the community. With the continued support of donors like you and our dedicated community, our goal is to move back within the next 6 months without interrupting service. We want to ensure that in the cold winter months ahead, everyone will be able to access the food they need.
See that the Poverty Reduction Strategy is Implemented
Recently the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) was passed during a Toronto city council meeting. The PRS aims to eliminate poverty in Toronto by 2035 with implementations starting in 2016. The goal is to address immediate needs such as housing, transportation and food insecurity. NYH has been a big supporter of this strategy since day one and we would like to see it take shape. The only issue now is what funding will be available for this plan.
What does North York Harvest want to see addressed as soon as possible? Public space for food programming. Many people living in poverty do not have access to healthy food because of where they live. We want to be able to provide our programs in more communities, but there is a lack of public space for us to run our programs (like our issue with Lawrence Heights).
The PRS recommends increasing the number of emergency food programs such as food banks in neighbourhoods that have food insecurity and poor food access.
Increase our Industrial Partnership with The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF)
When we moved into our new home at 116 Industry St, one of the things we were most excited about was the potential for partnerships with many of the great organizations also located here. One collaboration that we were able to implement right away was allowing students working on their forklift-driving license to use our forklifts and warehouse. This has helped them complete their training in a live warehouse thus building real work experience. As we enter 2016, we have some plans to see that partnership expand. We’re hoping to create an apprentice program for on the job training while supporting our warehouse distribution. This will ensure we can move more food through our warehouse to the clients who need it.
Increase our Food Purchasing Program
In an effort to make sure that our community has enough healthy food to eat, we have further developed our food purchasing program into the Build a Hamper Program. The goal of this program is to take our food hampers to the next level by adding more fresh and healthy food. Many of our food items come through donations from food drives or corporate donations and consist of non-perishable foods. We would like to increase our food purchasing budget so we can provide more items such as fresh vegetables, dairy, eggs, meat and milk to ensure a more balanced meal for those that access our food banks. If you would like to learn more about our Build A Hamper program, click here.
We are definitely looking forward to achieving these goals in 2016! What are your New Year’s Resolutions?