No celebration is complete without delicious food. And the menu at last month's launch celebration of the Hamilton Community Food Centre (a project of Neighbour to Neighbour Centre) took things to the next level. The stars of the show were, without a doubt, the dolma, a savoury rice-and-spice mix wrapped in grape leaves, and the kuba, whole-grain bulgur patties with beef and spices, which were made with love by a wonderful community of Kurdish and Middle Eastern women that have become very involved in the Hamilton Community Food Centre.
“These women bring tons of positive energy to our kitchen, and jumped in at the busiest time to help make it all happen. They’re like family,” says Community Chef Mark Raymond.
The women hail from across the globe: there are nine Kurdish women, five Arabic, three from Afghanistan, and three Assyrian ladies from Iraq. They first came to the centre in January, when they joined the nascent Intercultural Community Kitchen. The program focuses on creating a space where community members can come together to cook, try out new flavours and ingredients, and learn about each others' languages and cultures, from the Middle East to South Korea.
“The Community Food Centre provides a space for the Kurdish and Arabic community to feel safe and to build community,” said Narmin Mzouri, Food Skills Animator. “Most newcomers are staying at home. Here, they have a place away from home where they can laugh, talk, learn, and exchange.”
Each week, the women bring in fresh-baked bread every week to share. “I learn incredible things from cooking with them, and I'm inspired to have the chance to learn about their lives,” says Chef Mark. "They've been instrumental in getting things going and helping build the program into a great success that filled our space with wonderful colours and delicious flavours and aromas.”
Mark, Narmin, and the whole CFC staff are excited to see the Community Food Centre's programs (and their gardens!) blossom in the coming months and reach even more community members. Mark grew up down the street from the centre in Rolston, and has seen the neighbourhood go through drastic changes as the local economy has suffered. He knows how important it is for families in the area – where 49% of the children age six and younger are living in poverty -- to have a space where they can access free healthy food. “We're meeting new people every week and watching exciting ideas come to action. Such a wide variety of people and groups in the community have expressed support, and that gives us so much confidence to keep building.”
That support was on full display to celebrate the centre’s grand opening of the 6,000-square-foot Community Food Centre – Canada's eighth – on April 21. The women of the Intercultural Kitchen gave their skills and time to cook up trays upon trays of traditional foods for the 200+ supporters. Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger spoke of his excitement to see this place for food come to life: "The Hamilton Community Food Centre has created an environment that's respectful and dignified ...what a wonderful day to see this."
With 12 new good food programs coming to life over the summer months – including a Global Roots Lunch, Good Food Market & Cafe, After School Program, and Community Action Program – we're sure to see many more "wonderful days" at the Hamilton Community Food Centre filled with new friends and delicious food.