On June 5, The Depot Community Food Centre’s Healthy Food Policy received the Coup de coeur prize, an award given annually by Quebec’s Health and Social Service Ministry to one outstanding health-focused project.
The prize was awarded during the Prix d’excellence ceremony, an annual event that recognizes the most innovative projects from health and social services institutions and community organizations in Quebec.
"The Awards of Excellence highlight men and women who are leaders in their communities and who have the courage to improve practices," said Lionel Carmant, Minister Delegate for Health and Social Services.
Spotlight on healthy food
The Depot’s Healthy Food Policy is based on a simple, but incredibly impactful commitment to supporting their community by providing access to healthy and nutritious food, which is often out of reach for the people who rely on The Depot’s programs.
The policy guides ensures that all the food the organization purchases, prepares, and gives out in its 20 programs is fresh, whole, nutritious, and reflects the cultural diversity of their community.
“We believe access to healthy food is a universal human right,” says Daniel Rotman, Executive Director of The Depot. “We’re increasingly finding that differences in health outcomes and life expectancies between people living on low incomes and their middle-class counterparts are due, in large part, to the foods people consume. As an organization that works towards food security in our community, we have a responsibility to provide healthy options across all our programs.”
It also spells out what kind of food the organization accepts from donors, encouraging donations of whole foods and staple items, or cash donations to the Fresh Food Fund, which allows The Depot to purchase foods most appropriate for community members.
The policy has only been in place for a year, but the results have been transformational:
88% of people surveyed report that The Depot is an important source of fruit and vegetables
58% of people who participate in The Depot’s healthy food programs say they’re better able to manage a health condition
“This place transformed my life, eating healthier. I would like to be a spokesperson for this place. I want to send a message out that you guys saved my life and it made me have a life.” — community member at the Depot.
Bringing the Healthy Food Policy to life
The introduction of the Healthy Food Policy came at a time of transformation at The Depot, a transformation prompted by needs identified by the community – many of whom depend on The Depot for much of their nutritional needs each month – and by the rise in incidence of diet-related diseases and chronic conditions staff were seeing among community members.
A 2017 survey found people who went to The Depot were overwhelmingly in favour of implementing a policy to increase the availability of healthy foods. So staff got started.
The organization began shifting practices and approaches to ensure all programs were focused on providing healthy food, and supporting community members to maintain and/or improve both their physical and mental health. That meant investing in creating a dignified, welcoming space; expanding the number and types of programs being offered; and reducing the barriers community members faced in accessing healthy food and support. In 2018, The Depot became a member Community Food Centre.
The policy and other changes were guided by community input, and by best practices from across the country. Staff found inspiration and support from CFCC’s Good Food Rules as well as in Beyond the Emergency: How to evolve your food bank into a force for change, a manual CFCC published by to support food banks implement healthy food practices, and CFCC’s food bank transformation intensive, which focuses on how to create healthy food environments in food banks.
It wasn’t all easy sailing. One of the biggest challenges staff faced in implementing the policy was finding the right way to explain why healthy food (and not just any food) is important. But creating the space to have the conversation with donors, volunteers, and the community has proven fruitful, and has bolstered everyone’s commitment to supporting the health of the community.