People and programs 02/13/2013

It’s hard to believe that programming has been underway for a full year at The Table Community Food Centre in Perth, Ontario. Along the way, lots of lessons learned, and lots of great successes. Here are a few:

The Table had planned to offer a mix of dinners, breakfasts and weekend brunches, but soon found that the latter two were less popular. Early on they switched to offering dinners only, three times per week, and now regularly have over 80 folks attending each meal. A key component of making the meals thrive has been the creation of a volunteer community animator position who greets people by name as they arrive, answers questions, and acts as a sort-of “host” for the meals, creating a safe and friendly space for all and making sure everyone feels at home at the meals.

The gardening program has expanded beyond belief. Initially, the gardens available at The Table were raised beds, built with the help of the local Home Hardware team. However, early in the season, staff secured access to an 8,000-square-foot lot from the city, located at Last Duel Park (named for the last fatal duel to take place in Canada in 1833). Thanks to a Sobey’s Earth Day grant, half of this space was cultivated this year, and with the help from a Nature’s Path grant, the other half will be tilled and planted next season. 

The After School Program has completed two full sessions, and we’ve heard stories from parents about kids cooking for the first time at home. Affirmed one of our eager participants: "This program is the best thing.  Before this, I used to play video games after school.  Here I’ve made new friends and got to know kids from my school that I didn't know before."

Kids were involved in some of The Table’s community kitchens as well, like the Dad’s and Kids program. Fathers commented on feeling better equipped to make quick, healthy meals at home, and bragged that their kids were eating more vegetables, and that they were more involved in the kitchen overall. As one dad put it, “Because of this program, [my son] is actually going to be choosing and cooking suppers on Tuesdays when this program ends.” 

Alongside these programs, use of the food bank has grown significantly. The new system of structuring the food bank as a grocery store has worked well, and staff continue to strive to increase the quality of the food offered. In 2012, over $8,000 of local, organic, sustainable food was purchased for distribution in the food bank, and we expect this number to increase significantly in the years to come. 

The Community Action Program has also seen great uptake over the year. Two training courses were offered this year by Community Action Coordinator Sam Davidson. The first helped train interested community members to become qualified advocates at The Table’s peer advocacy office, while the second focused more on how to create change in the Perth community. A field trip to the Idle No More protests in Ottawa attracted many folks, and several people also travelled to Toronto to take part in planning with the Put Food in the Budget campaign. Referrals and additional supports were offered through the peer advocacy office as well, mostly focused on helping people with housing, income, legal, and medical supports.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the programming and impacts that are taking place in Perth. The lessons and questions continue to come in – how can outreach be improved? What is the potential for sourcing more food from local sources? How can we make sure people are accessing all the supports and programs they need? But at the end of the day, one year in, over 1,700 individuals were impacted by programs offered at The Table in its first year. Considering Perth is a town of just 6,000 (albeit with a larger catchment area) that’s not a bad start.

— Elizabeth Fraser, Partnership Manager