The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre is located in Winnipeg's diverse Inkster neighbourhood. Staff and volunteers strive to create a welcoming place for newcomers in the centre's kitchens and gardens, using food to build connection and belonging, and offering a place where people can find – and share – a taste of home.
Making new traditions in the Filipino Family Cooking Group
In NorWest's Filipino Family Cooking Group, participants take traditional Filipino recipes and flip them on their head, creating healthy new takes on family favourites. Diabetes is a prevalent health issue in Inkster's large Filipino community. The cooking group offers participants the means and opportunity to become empowered to make healthy changes to their diets within the limits of their circumstances. New and different ingredients inspire innovative recipes, with coordinator Abby Legaspi at the helm pushing her group to have fun with flavours. “It's great because people can try a new food at the Community Food Centre first. That means people can feel free to experiment without spending the money.” The program also helps ease the transition of moving to a new country. Each morning before the cooking group, newcomers can meet with a settlement worker who can connect them with employment and other supports.
Watch Ryan's story to find out how the Community Food Centre has helped connect him to the community.
Since it launched, the Filipino Family Cooking Group has also attracted several non-Filipino participants who are eager to learn about Filipino cuisine and culture and build bonds and friendships. "Food is the start of a connection," says Community Food Centre director Kristina McMillan. "When we pair that with a welcoming environment and some tasty food, people feel at ease." Lately, participants' involvement in the garden, where common South Asian crops like long eggplant, bottle gourd, bitter melon, okra, and kinchay sprout up, has also blossomed. The whole group now comes in to water, harvest, and get their hands dirty on Saturdays, and the kids planted an herb garden in spring. “It tastes different when you’re picking it fresh and cooking it in the food,” notes Abby.
Staff members are now talking about creating a similar cooking group for the Punjabi community. And the CFC is hosting a welcoming event in August for Syrian refugees new to the community to introduce these new neighbours to the centre and its services. While we were getting the update on the Filipino Family Cooking Group from director Kristina McMillan, she shared this story about how a recently arrived Syrian family is already building bonds through food:
"We recently had a Syrian refugee family in at the centre because the father wanted to garden in Canada. He was a farmer in Syria, and through using Google Translate, we came to understand that he had brought bean seeds with him all the way from Syria. He had carried them throughout his long and emotional travels, from the time his family spent in a refugee camp to their immigration journey. These seeds were so important to him because they represented a piece of home he could grow here. So, we gave him a spot for the beans, sprouted them inside, and then planted them in the garden. Hopefully this summer he can taste Syrian beans again. It was a small thing, but he was searching for a place to plant these seeds and we are so happy to connect with this family, provide this opportunity, and also to connect them to services at NorWest. Despite all the stress in their lives right now, here's something that they can grow and visit.
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