When 17-year-old Kyler heard about The Alex Community Food Centre last summer, he was, frankly, not so sure he was interested. But finances were tight at home. And his father, single dad to seven kids (the eldest lives on her own), had visited with some of the younger children for the drop-in breakfast and convinced him to join them at the Calgary centre for a meal.
“I usually approach new situations a bit apprehensively,” he explains. “But I went there and saw all these random people—little kids, old people—sitting around tables, gardens in the front. There’s natural light. And coffee—sublime coffee!—in real mugs. It was honestly the first time I ever really felt a sense of community.”
In his last year of high school, Kyler has been out as trans for the last three years. He’s had his share of challenges in this ongoing journey, and he was amazed and relieved at how accepting people are at The Alex. He started going to the centre more often.
In addition to enjoying the coffee and drop-in meals, as well as the free fresh produce market, Kyler spent time in the summer digging and harvesting in the garden and is now offering up his skills at a kids’ cooking class on Saturdays. In fact, he credits his experience there with something of a personal transformation.
“I’m finding my own little niche in the world outside my family, and it’s really important. Talking to people at The Alex, genuine people, seeing the place in action, gives me hope for humanity. It’s the realization that not everything in the world is corrupt, focused on greed. I see that some people want to make the world a better place.”
He’s even made friends with some of the other volunteers and staff and started to think more about the role of food in both his life and the world.
“One of the staff was talking about how cooking is really important,” he recalls. “She said that once you can choose what you put in your body, you have more power over your life. I started thinking about that and it started to make sense to me. I’m definitely eating more healthily. But to me, it’s an idea that starts with food and goes beyond. It’s about being proactive.
“It’s about not letting life happen to you but actually making choices. I think it’s why I’m doing better in school, doing less procrastinating, and just less wallowing in bitterness.”
At The Alex’s youth group, where they discuss food and health, as well as social justice issues, Kyler has also found his self-confidence growing both through speaking out about his experience and realizing his voice can be used to advocate for others.
“I can be myself here,” he says. “You walk into the centre and it just feels like hope. It’s this little bubble of sunshine. And being part of that, I can also see the world in a better light.”