"It's nice. Sharing all these experiences together in the kitchen. Sharing languages, sharing cultures, sharing food, sharing our minds."
A place to feel welcome
It’s a chilly day in April, and a group of Kurdish and Middle Eastern women are hard at work in the brightly coloured, open-concept kitchen at the Hamilton Community Food Centre. They’re giving their skills and time to cook up trays of dolma, kuba, and other traditional dishes for over 200 guests ready to celebrate the grand opening of Canada’s eighth Community Food Centre.
The women hail from across the globe: there are nine Kurdish women, five Arabic, three from Afghanistan, and three Assyrian ladies from Iraq. They first came to the centre in January 2017, when they joined the centre’s nascent Intercultural Community Kitchen. The program focuses on creating a space where community members can come together to cook, try out new flavours and ingredients, and learn about each others' languages and cultures, from the Middle East to South Korea. “The Community Food Centre provides a space for the Kurdish and Arabic community to feel safe and to build community,” says Narmin Mzouri, Food Skills Animator at the Hamilton CFC. “Most newcomers are staying at home. Here, they have a place away from home where they can laugh, talk, learn, and exchange.”
A community centre built around good food
The Intercultural Community Kitchen is just one of the programs the Hamilton CFC offers. Their food access programs, including a Seniors' Wellness Breakfast, Family Dinner, and Good Food Market and Café, help people living on low incomes access healthy food. They also run programs designed to engage the diverse newcomer population, such as the Global Roots Lunch language exchange program. The Advocacy Office is always bustling -- with 725 community member visits to the office for support in 2017, and 88% of them resolving issues as a result. And Community Action Coordinator Danielle is empowering people to navigate systems and advocate for themselves and their peers through the Community Action Training program.
An innovative partnership
The Hamilton Community Food Centre is located in Rolston, a low-income community that has the highest rate of poverty on Hamilton Mountain. 35% of families in the neighbourhood live below the poverty line, including 49% of all children aged six and under. Rolston is very culturally diverse -- 25% of residents identify with a visible minority group, compared with 14% of Hamilton residents. There is also a growing population of seniors in Rolston, as well as in the Hamilton region.
For over 30 years, Hamilton's Neighbour to Neighbour Centre has worked to address local food insecurity issues head-on. Through our partnership, we turned a 6,000-square-foot grocery store is now a bright, colourful, welcoming space for the community to gather around good food. It opened in 2016. The CFC expands on Neighbour to Neighbour Centre’s existing poverty alleviation and prevention programs, and provides innovative food programming to seniors, new immigrants, families with young children, and the wider community.