Erica, Eel Ground First Nation

"I was born and raised in Eel Ground First Nation in New Brunswick. I’m related to almost everyone here. I left for a while and lived around the country, but my seven-year-old son and I moved back four years ago.

When I first got the job coordinating the reserve food bank, it was just a closet. The food was locked up. People would line up and get handed their macaroni and cheese and hot dogs and be on their way. The food was gone within an hour.

When we moved into our new building, we changed all that. It’s a warm, open space with big windows and stainless-steel shelving. We encourage people to come in and have a seat, have a coffee. We make sure there’s fresh, healthy food. At first everyone was afraid of leaving the lineup in case they lost their spot.

But we implemented policies around treating everyone with respect and dignity, and created an appointment system. This meant not everyone comes at the same time and we can make sure there’s enough food. Plus, we have a chance to interact with people. A chance to talk about how their family deserves better than processed food. They deserve fresh, healthy food.

It was a game changer because it altered the dynamic. We even see people who don’t get along reconciling here—two sisters who argue are fine at the Community Food Centre because it’s a supportive, encouraging, positive space.

I'm now the program coordinator for the centre, and we recently had our official grand opening. It was incredibly powerful. An elder from the neighbouring First Nation sang the Mi'kmaq honour song and smudged our chief and other dignitaries. Then he asked me to smudge the rest of the 60 or 70 people there. I’d never done that before and it was a huge honour.

That day we gave our Volunteer Award to a man who’s had a hard life. But he’s come to the CFC and he’s been incredible. He volunteers for everything and has become a big advocate. The award was a highlight—not of his day—of his life. You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

I'm so grateful to witness this transformation of our community. I see myself changing and growing along with it. There is a give and take. I’ve learned so much here.”