People and programs 07/08/2020

In April 2020, when Nova Scotians were already facing a public health crisis in COVID-19, they were hit with an unthinkable tragedy: 22 people were murdered in the deadliest shooting rampage in Canadian history. 

“We’re seeing the biggest impacts to our community in the areas of mental health and isolation,” says Deborah Dickey, Manager of The North Grove Community Food Centre (formerly Dartmouth North Community Food Centre) in Dartmouth.

At The North Grove, bringing people together in a welcoming space has always been just as important as sharing healthy food. People would come to have coffee, meet with friends and talk with staff. “That connection was so important for mental and social health and now it’s barely there,” Deb says. “We're missing that important piece that brought people to our door.”

Since 2015, The North Grove CFC has been the beating heart of Dartmouth North. Before COVID-19, it brought together a vibrant community of seniors, families and a growing contingent of immigrants. Each day, people would gather to participate in family programs or community meals. Most of the fresh ingredients were harvested from The North Grove’s own massive 20,000 square foot urban farm.

A key ingredient in The North Grove’s success has been their volunteers, many of whom first visited The North Grove through a meal. Soon after experiencing the warm community feel at the CFC, participants ask how they can get involved, sharing their skills and talents. 

“We’ve always believed people are coming to us with something to give, rather than assuming they're here with a deficit we have to fix. It’s led to an empowered and tight-knit community that’s not afraid to try something new and to help each other.”

—Deb Dickey, Manager of The North Grove Community Food Centre
 

But, like so many others across the country, this tight-knit community was forced to distance when COVID-19 hit. People who live alone – nearly half of all Dartmouth North residents – found themselves even more isolated. And in the aftermath of the shooting, some were afraid to leave their apartments at all. This perfect storm of physical and social isolation is leaving mental health issues in its wake.

The CFC staff are doing everything they can to be there for those who need them while still following social distancing protocols. Outreach has become as much a priority as any meal. But it’s tough to connect socially when people can’t be in the same physical space as one another.

For now, in-person programs have been moved online, and those who used to receive at-home visits can interact over the phone or Zoom, if they have a device or the internet. Staff also have rotating lists of community members whom they call on a regular basis. “Sometimes they just need to talk and connect, or sometimes they have a real concrete need that we can help them with,” Deb says. “We’re there for both.” 

With the support of donors to the Good Food Access Fund, Community Food Centres Canada has provided emergency funding to The North Grove. “I feel secure in what we’re doing because donors are supporting our work,” Deb says. “I just don't know what we’d do without them.”

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Since mid-March, Deb and her team have already provided over 6,000 meals and 4,000 bags of critical supplies to their community. The amazing teams behind The North Grove Family and Community Food Centre came together to develop a new model of emergency community support, while managing the centre and its urban farm.

The Family programming team even completed a long planned move next door to the CFC, ready for when programs can resume. The North Grove team has shown strength and resilience in the face of tremendous challenges. They truly embody what it takes for a community to be 'Nova Scotia Strong'.

“We’re a community and we’re here to help each other, no matter what."