Food for Thought Blog
Why Choice Matters in the Community Food Assistance Network
March 10th, 2022Agencies
Accessing emergency food assistance can be an intimidating experience. In Waterloo Region, the Community Food Assistance Network – a system of 100+ community programs and agency partners working together to provide food and other vital supports – understand how difficult it can be to reach out for support. That is why the community programs and agency partners focus on creating welcoming spaces where community members in need of emergency food assistance can access support.
A big part of creating a welcoming environment is providing as much choice as possible for the community. Choice is an important part of offering dignified access to services as it allows community members to choose the items that best meet their cultural and dietary needs.
To support the safety of community members, program staff and volunteers throughout the pandemic, many community programs and agency partners within the Community Food Assistance Network offered pre-packed emergency food hampers via curb side pick-up temporarily limiting the amount of choice available to participants. As restrictions have lifted, these community programs and agency partners are increasingly finding ways for participants to have a more active role in selecting which food items will provide healthy meals for their families.
How the Community Food Assistance Network Provides Choice
One example of the creativity in incorporating choice is the Sanguen Health Centre, Mobile Community Health Van. Community members can select the food and clothing items that will work for them while accessing health care services. By selecting food items from shelves in the van it provides an opportunity to start a conversation with community members to start to build relationships creating a sense of connection and belonging in the community.
At Ray of Hope, those in need of emergency food assistance can access the Marketplace, a space for participants to walk through aisles filled with fresh, frozen, and non-perishable foods. Participants are allotted points based on their household size and items like fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables have a lower point value to support access to healthier foods.
Ray of Hope and Sanguen Health Centre are supported by The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, one of two Community Food Assistance Network food banks, that work together to procure and equitably distribute food across Waterloo Region.
In 2021, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region distributed over 4.9 million pounds of food to the Community Food Assistance Network, ensuring a continuous supply of food is available when and where it is needed. These fresh, frozen, and non-perishable foods are used by community programs and agency partners to meet the needs of a diverse population which can include those who are precariously housed, those on a fixed income such as seniors, and more broadly, those that are struggling to afford basic expenses like rent or mortgage payments.
The Benefits of Choice
To meet various dietary and cultural food preferences, the community programs and agency partners within the Community Food Assistance Network, are offering choice create a space for community members in need of emergency food assistance to select which foods work best for their individual and family meal plans. Participants accessing community programs and agency partners within the Community Food Assistance Network, with choice can also benefit in the following ways:
- Participants are supported in making choices that will work best for them and their families.
- Participants can have more opportunity to learn about what foods are available and can try new foods!
- There is less waste because families are able to take home the items they need and will use.
- Participants with medical conditions can choose specific items that will support their health.
- Participants can choose items that will meet their cultural and religious needs
Across the Community Food Assistance Network, community programs and agency partners are offering more choice to neighbours in need of emergency food assistance. For the Network agencies the way services are delivered influences whether people feel respected and welcome. Offering choice is just one important part of making everyone feel valued and supported.