Food for Thought Blog

Food Tastes Better when it is Shared

May 5th, 2022Agencies

In Waterloo Region, two partnered food banks – The Food Bank of Waterloo Region and the Cambridge Food Bank – share food across the Community Food Assistance Network – a system of 100+ community programs and agencies working together to provide meals and emergency food hampers to individuals and families in need of support.

The fresh, frozen, and non-perishable foods community programs and agencies receive from Network food banks are used to nourish neighbourhoods and often there are opportunities for community members to directly participate in food hamper and meal distribution.

As one example, a dynamic team of talented women with a passion for cooking and a devotion to thinking of others assemble every month to prepare meals that are shared with neighbours. This team of cooks work from the Chandler-Mowat Community Centre to prepare great tasting meals in a certified kitchen and are supported by the House of Friendship, the City of Kitchener, and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region to achieve their goals.

Program cook Jackie explains the program in more detail, “I bet you don’t cook like this at home, cause I don’t!  But when we are cooking for others, in this case our neighbours, you make something really special.”

The implication of the program in Chandler-Mowat extends beyond sharing a nourishing meal. Community members are also able to learn about additional vital services, engage in a socializing opportunity, and neighbourhood pride is enriched as local talents are celebrated and employed to make this meal program a reality.

Since March of this year, Jackie, Nuha, Vanessa, Trish, and Taisir have been meeting with Aline Smith, a House of Friendship Community Development Worker, to plan meals. In April, the group prepared lasagna, a mixed vegetable romaine salad, garlic bread, and butterscotch cupcakes topped with fondant flowers. The program has the capacity to prepare 50 individual meals and when looking to the future, the team hopes to explore the possibility of in-person dining and to maintain some to-door delivery.

Currently, area residents in need of food assistance can also access a three-day supply of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable food items from the House of Friendship’s weekly food hamper program. Both food assistance programs operate from the Chandler-Mowat Community Centre as it is a centrally located neighbourhood building making it easier for people to get to and actively participate in community events and services.

Program Cook Nuha shares the significance of the centre to the community, “We operate out of the Centre because it is a place for neighbours to come together and get to know each other, a place to build community from. Everything changed for us when the portables in Chandler-Mowat were replaced by this Centre, it’s made opportunities like this possible. Now we cook and we see strangers become neighbours”

The Chandler-Mowat neighbourhood can be described as a narrow, 2-kilometre area where many homes are rented geared to income and community members represent a multitude of languages and cultures. For those who are new to the area, it can be difficult to find the time to connect with neighbours and when you add in pandemic related physical distancing measures barriers to socializing get that much harder. The to-go meal program in Chandler-Mowat is thus a wonderful opportunity for community members to safely interact and participate in a community building activity.

Jackie shares her hopes for the program, “With the meals we serve we hope to reduce isolation, not only by nourishing the community but also proving that if you bring ideas forward you can make them happen. I’d like to encourage others not to hold back. Why don’t we explore the resources, talents, and possibilities in our neighbourhood to make things better for each other?”

Earlier this year, the idea to cook for neighbours and establish the Community Kitchen Outreach program in the Chandler-Mowat neighbourhood got support from the House of Friendship and the City of Kitchener who provided funding for the program and The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is also fulfilling food orders to support the program. For the cooks this opportunity is a dream come true.

Program cook Trish shares, “I get so excited knowing cooking day is coming up, I never imagined an opportunity like this would be available to me.”

Excitement from neighbours registered to receive a meal is also clear to see.  On cook day in April, neighbours passing through the Community Centre would stop in at the kitchen to share encouraging words and promises that they’ll be back to pick-up their meal. The program is clearly having an impact with food acting a powerful connecter to bring people together and building rapport between neighbours.

Trish recalls one significant connection made, “For one neighbour, when we served the Mac and Cheese meal, he had to pull Jackie aside and share how his mom made the dish the exact same way. He got sentimental recalling memories about the foods he ate with his family. To have these stories shared with us is something so special”

The cooking team is eager for the community to know that they are thankful for the grant they received from the city and thankful to community members for trying something new and supporting the program. Their hope is for their act of kindness to have a ripple effect in the community.

“We encourage others who hear our story to also pursue something from their heart because what ever you do from the heart will be successful”

The Community Kitchen Outreach program in Chandler-Mowat is one example of the emergency food assistance programs available in our community. Every single day, agencies partners and community programs are supported by Network food banks to build community around food, to share food with those in need of assistance, and to connect neighbours to additional vital supports.