Food for Thought Blog

Neighbourhood Program Focuses on Building Community through Food

May 18th, 2021Agencies

Food brings people together. It’s a way for people to connect, develop friendships, and feel a sense of belonging in their community.

In Waterloo Region, there are 100+ community programs and agency partners – known as the Community Food Assistance Network – that provide access to emergency food and other vital supports. These community programs and agency partners not only distribute food, but they are also often a hub of community building, a place where neighbours gather and get to know each other. Something that has been increasingly difficult to do with the ongoing pandemic and extended lockdowns and closures.

Neighbourhood Food Programs Improve Food Accessibility

At the Neighbourhood Food Program, located in the Forest Heights area of Kitchener, food is an integral part of their programming. “Food brings people that might not otherwise connect, together and sets the foundation for building a strong community,” said Aline Smith, Community Development Worker at the Neighbourhood Food Program.

The program, which falls under the House of Friendship umbrella, was originally scheduled to open in April 2020 but experienced some COVID-19 related delays that pushed the start date until November 2020.

“The primary focus is to provide food support to individuals and families close to home,” explained Smith. “Having neighbourhood-based programs helps to remove any barriers towards access, such as transportation,” she added.

As a program that started operating during the pandemic, word of mouth has been helpful in raising awareness in the community and the participants have been sharing information with other neighbours in need. Each week, the Neighbourhood Food Program supports about 45 families, but Smith admits, she has seen that number increase during the lockdown.

The Food Bank and Neighbourhood Food programs Work Together to Help Families in Need.

Food for the program is provided by The Food Bank of Waterloo Region with a weekly delivery of fresh produce, non-perishables, and frozen items that include vegetables as well as Halal and regular protein options.

“Providing food support to families in the community means meeting a basic need for people and their families,” stressed Smith. “When you start your day with a full tummy, that allows you to better focus on other areas of life and start thinking about other things they’d like to accomplish, whether it’s joining a program or doing something with their children.”

Without the relationship and partnership with The Food Bank, the Neighbourhood Food Program wouldn’t be able to operate. “The Food Bank is our main connection to the food supports for our families, so if we didn’t have that connection and relationship, I’m not sure how food procurement would work. Without The Food Bank, that leg work would sit with us, it’s a really big piece,” emphasized Smith.

While food distribution is a big piece of the work being done at the Neighbourhood Food Program, the team also focuses on education by offering instructional, hands-on based cooking classes, these classes are currently on-hold due to the pandemic but are expected to resume in the future. “Food is the starting point,” said Smith. “When you start food distribution or cooking classes, you start a connection with the food piece that brings people together. Its’ the first step towards community development and betterment.”

According to Smith, they are looking ahead to being able to re-open the program that encourages conversation and connection between neighbours. “When people of different cultures, beliefs and opinions are interacting, food can be a common ground that allows people to connect and talk. Throughout the pandemic, many people in the community have expressed how isolated they are feeling and the only time they feel safe to connect is when they’re visiting the food program.”

Right now, the program operates by appointment only on Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. For more information you can call 519.498.7328 to register.

If you are in need of emergency food assistance but do not live in the Forest Heights area, visit: thefoodbank.ca/network or call: 519.743.5576 x340 to locate a program near you.