People and programs 09/07/2022 Shannon McCauley is the Director of Partnership Development at Community Food Centres Canada. Recently, Shannon and her team have been supporting our Community Food Centre partners as they transition back to offering in-person programming. This is the first of a four-part blog series that shares what this has looked like in several communities across Canada. One of the best parts of my job is getting to visit our Community Food Centre partners. It’s sometimes challenging to put into words what it feels like to walk into a CFC – but I’m going to try. The centre might have been a former grocery store, restaurant or church, but now it’s a bright, vibrant space that smells of simmering veggies, sounds like laughter, and feels like home. During the pandemic, all 15 Community Food Centres that we partner with across the country had to shift their approach significantly. This meant cancelling in-person programs or moving them online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while stepping into the role of emergency food distributor. More than two years later, we’re hearing powerful stories as Community Food Centres begin to reopen their doors. Some community members are returning and excited to be back to connect and eat together. Many others are experiencing these spaces for the first time. In June, I had the opportunity to travel to Stratford, Ontario to attend The Local Community Food Centre’s Annual General Meeting. Jenn Parsons, The Local CFC’s Storehouse and Market Manager, greeted the attendees and walked all of us through what a Monday evening felt like before the pandemic in the Community Food Centre. She spoke of the warm welcome, the familiar faces, and the new connections made over a delicious and nutritious community meal. The flurry of activity as people popped into the market to grab their veggies for the week, or as the children’s gardening program wrapped up in the adjacent greenhouse. As Jenn put it: "The point of our Monday night meal was not merely to provide a healthy, home cooked meal. It was to connect the community to us, and more importantly, to each other." Jenn shared all of this with us because there are so many new folks who have started coming to The Local since the pandemic who have not had the opportunity to experience the joy and connection that comes with their community meals. Then, Erin, one of The Local CFC’s new community chefs, spoke of their experience joining the team in the midst of the pandemic, churning out 2,500 takeaway meals each week. Erin recounted being incredibly moved when cooking for their first in-person community meal this past June, where community members approached them to share how much they enjoyed what was prepared. As Erin shared this anecdote, there was not a dry eye in the house – mine included. The past few years have not been easy on anyone, but we know it’s been particularly tough on Community Food Centre staff. They are the people working the front lines, constantly shifting procedures, seeing increased need in their community and delivering emergency food programming in ways they’ve never had to before. That’s why these moments of community and connection are worth celebrating. They are a strong reminder of what we’ve long known: there is power in a community coming together around food.