News and announcements 11/26/2012

In a conversation we had a few months back, when The Local’s community meal space was still a mess of dust and hanging wires and the Shovel to Spoon community kitchen group was cooking vats of veggie chili on a grill in the backyard, Director Steve Stacey smiled through the chaos and told me: “I think of a time in the future when  Community Food Centres will be as ubiquitous as libraries and YMCAs. People will say ‘Of course we have a CFC. We're a community. And we recognize the power food has to bring people together and promote the health and well-being of the people who live here.’”

On November 22, Steve and The Local’s intrepid staff and volunteers were joined by more than 100 community members—residents, politicians, journalists and health practitioners—for the grand opening of their Community Food Centre, located in what used to be a country depot on Erie St. in Stratford. Where there had been wires there was now solid wall, painted a vibrant aubergine. Gorgeous custom-crafted wood tables filled the meal space, which smelled of fresh-baked pita, slow-roasted local lamb and marinated veggies, a community meal prepared by Chef Jordan Lassaline. The advocacy offices were stacked with information. The CFC, built in response to extensive community consultation, is already a vibrant community-gathering space connecting people through food. 
 
The Do The Math Town Hall that followed the meal was modelled after the campaign fellow CFC The Stop ran in 2009 to raise awareness about abysmally low social assistance rates. A couple dozen people—city councillors, the Medical Officer of Health, and actor Sean Arbuckle among them—participated in the challenge, which asked them to subsist on a $5-a-day food budget for three days. (This was generous: Ontario Works rates are currently set at $599/month for a single individual, leaving anyone with rent to pay less than $0/month for food.) One by one, participants rose to share their experiences. United Way Perth Huron ED Ryan Erb spoke of how powerless he felt watching his kids eat from the hamper. Arbuckle admitted that he cheated during the three-day challenge. “I thought about how lucky I was to be able to cheat. And when I came here and I saw the lights on and knew there was a meal there waiting it was profound.” Councillor McManus evoked the social isolation that goes hand in hand with poverty, and the connections that can be made around a table. And a community member spoke powerfully about how her husband got sick and could no longer work, but because he’d earned a good income before his illness their assistance was clawed back and now they were forced to depend on food programs to survive, at the expense of his health. 

People who’d never been in the same room shared a meal and a conversation that night. That conversation will continue every day as people come together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food, just as they are in Perth and Toronto and, soon, in cities across the country. We’re building a big table with lots of seats. Pull up a chair and join us!