"I'm very politically aware of the systems that recreate poverty. Here at The Alex, I've been given a space to get to know people, contribute to community. I'm here to help myself, and help organize.”
A place where youth can "cook up justice"
Every Wednesday, a group of young people from the Forest Lawn neighbourhood of Calgary meet up at The Alex Community Food Centre to cook, garden, work on art projects, and talk about how to make their community a healthier place for everyone. It’s not a typical scene -- apron-clad teenagers discussing issues facing Canada’s food system while peeling carrots or plucking ripe tomatoes from the garden -- but it’s a magical one. It was here in the kitchen that these youth came up with a big idea. They wanted to host an event where the community could come together to talk about the power of food to build solidarity and create social change. With a municipal election looming, they saw an opportunity to engage the candidates in a timely conversation.
Three months later, this passionate group of youth, who together make up The Alex’s Cooking Up Justice club, hosted #HungryforChange, bringing all the mayoral candidates together to press them on their food policies and have a meal with community members, many of whom were struggling with food insecurity. As everyone in the room enjoyed a beautiful meal made with local ingredients, people who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice at the table had the opportunity to have open conversations with policy-makers about the kinds of solutions that could make an honest difference in their ability to feed themselves and their families with dignity.
A community centre built around good food
The Cooking Up Justice club is just one of the programs The Alex CFC offers. Their food access programs, including drop-in breakfasts, lunches, and an affordable produce market, help people living on low incomes access food. Chef Bethel does amazing things -- 88% of participants say The Alex is an important source of healthy food. At their International Ave. Kitchen program, people take turns sharing recipes that have a special meaning to them, and leading their fellow participants in cooking them. And in FoodFit, facilitator Erin supports people to make lasting changes to their health through healthy eating, exercise, nutrition education, and the help of a supportive community. Because many of The Alex's participants are living on low incomes, peer advocates have office hours during meals and help people access supports and referrals. And those office hours fill up -- there were 184 visits to the Advocacy Office in 2017 alone.
An innovative partnership
The Alex Community Health Centre has been providing frontline services to the Calgary community for more than 40 years. In 2015, Community Food Centres Canada began working with The Alex Community Health Centre to build a Community Food Centre in Calgary's Forest Lawn neighbourhood. Forest Lawn has one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the city, with 24% of residents living on low incomes. The community has twice as many single-parent families (30%) compared with the rest of Calgary (15%), and a higher-than-average population of recent immigrants.
The CHC understood the deep-rooted food security issues in Forest Lawn, and building a Community Food Centre would allow them to add another pillar of support to their community. Since partnering with CFCC to build The Alex Community Food Centre in a 5,200-square-foot former restaurant, they've transformed the space into a vibrant gathering place for the community. The Community Health Centre/Community Food Centre partnership has allowed health care providers to better meet the needs of the community it serves, in a comfortable, less clinical setting that facilitates relationship-building and trust.