With programs featuring hands-on food and nutrition-related activities, the new hub is already bringing the neighbourhood together.
On Thursday evening the rich aroma of grilled vegetables and grilled chicken was puffing through the atrium and out the door of Regent Park’s Christian Resource Centre (CRC) during the official launch of the Regent Park Community Food Centre, an organization devoted to fighting food insecurity, ill health, and social exclusion in the vulnerable east-end neighbourhood.
The Food Centre has been rolling its programs out gradually, hiring staff and assembling resources; Thursday’s event was a chance to show the community what they’d put together. “We’re ready to say, ‘Hey community, we’re here, we’re in the neighbourhood, we’re a place for food in Regent Park, and we’re going to be doing more and more and more in the years to come,’” says Emily Martyn, the centre’s manager.
Based in the CRC’s space at 40 Oak Street, just south of Parliament and Gerrard, the Food Centre is the result of a partnership between the CRC and Community Food Centres Canada, which itself is a spinoff of The Stop Community Food Centre on St. Clair Avenue West. This is just the newest of a bevy of community food centres across the country that are helping underdeveloped areas gain access to healthy food, and nutrition education. “The Stop was really successful at working at the intersection between food insecurity and social justice, providing food to people in a way that built dignity and increased community capacity to take a leadership role,” Martyn says. “That’s the model that has been rolled out [here].”
The Food Centre has five program streams. Some are brand new, others have been around for awhile—but they’re all part of the Community Food Centre’s approach to uniting and educating the community with hands-on food and nutrition-related activities.
Community meal program
Every day of the week, the Food Centre hosts a drop-in meal, either breakfast or lunch—or, on Mondays and Fridays, both. It’s a program the CRC has been running successfully for years, and that now will be led by the Food Centre.
The Food Centre will be minding a pair of community vegetable and herb gardens. The first, in a new park named (somewhat redundantly) Regent Park, is tended by members of the Food Centre and seven other local groups, including the Regent Park Islamic Resource Centre and Central Neighbourhood House. A second garden, in front of the CRC building, grows food for the 87 residential units that also occupy the building at 40 Oak Street. A portion of the harvests from this garden will be donated to the drop-in meal program.
Food skills program
The Food Centre’s community kitchen program offers weekly cooking classes during which community members prepare meals as a group. A cooking class for seniors is currently offered, with a class for families, a weekly workshop on topics such as jam-making, and fitness and exercise classes to be added to the schedule in October. Part of the food skills program is a Tuesday night family-style dinner, which will see participants and their families cook for themselves and share a meal. “It’s a way for people to have more of a relaxed meal, have more of an opportunity for conversation, get to know their neighbours,” says Martyn.
Community advocacy program
The Food Centre has trained six neighbourhood residents to become paid part-time “food advocates” who will help fellow community members get information on housing, legal support, social assistance, and mental-health care.
With funding from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, the Food Centre will create a “food hub” at Regent Park, complete with a greenhouse and bake oven in addition to the vegetable and herb garden. The Food Centre has also hired a park co-ordinator tasked with establishing a Friends of Regent Park group to care for the park and ensure the amenities are well-used.
In addition to its five program streams, the Food Centre will provide opportunities for Regent Park residents to find paid and volunteer work at its facilities. “We have a real priority of finding ways that we can provide employment for people living in the community,” Martyn says. “We already have a number of staff who are from Regent Park.”
As the launch event kicked into gear Thursday evening, Food Centre staff were distributing small potted herbs, snacks from the community kitchen, and nutrition pamphlets printed in nearly every language you could imagine. Snapshots of community members planting the garden hung from a trellis next to the herb beds while a crew of local musicians played outside. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds crowded into the CRC space—already the Food Centre was bringing people together.