People and programs 10/16/2015

Walk into any Community Food Centre and you’re sure to be greeted by a bright welcoming space, a team of passionate, committed staff, and, naturally, the sights, sounds, and smells of good food cooking. While every CFC responds to unique local contexts, all centres offer programs under the umbrella of three key program areas: food access (like drop in meals), food skills (such as community gardens or kitchens), and advocacy and community action. Through peer advocacy, social justice groups, and public education activities, the community action program aims to engage the community around important issues and create new opportunities for effective action on systemic issues.

On any given Monday at Stratford's The Local Community Food Centre, while the weekly drop-in dinner rolls out healthy, delicious meals, The Local’s team of Community Advocates are hard at work in the background, offering peer-to-peer support to anyone needing help navigating the system from social assistance and disability support to securing housing or legal help. “There is always someone that will help you,” shared one participant. “You can feel free to come in to talk to someone.”

In addition to their peer support role, advocates take a range of leadership roles when it comes to community action and engagement work. The Ask the Advocates workshop series offers hour-long sessions based on needs identified through their advocacy work, from the Landlord and Tenant Act and healthy packed lunches to dental care. At this month’s session, 28 mayoral and council candidates came out for a packed session, sitting down for a meal alongside community members and then later doing short presentations on healthy food access, transportation, and social housing. (Read the Stratford Beacon Herald's report on the animated event.) In November, an event called Never Enough — organized by the Perth District Health Unit and Perth County Food Security Coalition — will shine a light on the need for a living wage in Perth County. The advocates will share their lived experiences of poverty and speak about the issues they see coming through the Advocacy Office at The Local.

Also active in the community is The Local’s robust social justice club, EPIC. These days, EPIC meets weekly and follows up an hour of gardening with an hour of social justice discussion and planning. They just wrapped up a social media campaign — Stand up to Stigma — that addressed how stigma around mental health issues can be a barrier to people seeking support. Over 100 community members had their pictures taken with handmade signs that expressed their support — both personal and political — for the campaign.

EPIC is also mobilizing around the issue of affordable housing through Campaign 226. Referencing the number of people on a waiting list for affordable housing in Perth County, Campaign 226 calls on the municipality to install urgently needed transitional housing, to improve the housing stock, and to put money away for capital housing projects down the road. Keep an eye on The Local’s Facebook page for updates.

In a recent blog post, Stratford resident Marianne Irvine wrote about her visit to The Local, and how the space is postively impacting the community. Replete with compelling testimonials from participants, it’s a powerful testament to the value of building space where everyone has a place at the table.