Neighbours helping neighbours, at the Parkdale Food Centre

By Bhavana Gopinath – 

The Parkdale Food Centre is gearing up for the holiday season, when they often face an influx of new clients, and when more demands are placed on their resources. Most donations come in November and December, so the centre is hoping that the community will come through for them to cover a $40,000 shortfall.

Parkdale has been laying the groundwork for innovative approaches to eliminating poverty and believe in helping such families build their strength from the ground up. Often, the cornerstone of this endeavour is wholesome and nourishing food provided by the community.

Karen Secord, manager of the Parkdale Food Centre, believes that “food,” or the lack thereof, represents many issues that affect the most vulnerable members of our community. A lack of food security implies gaps in society’s web of care: a lack of health, housing, a basic living wage, or opportunities. These are not problems that can be resolved in isolation; they are all interconnected.

Parkdale’s clients are often an invisible cross-section of Ottawa society: the neighbour struggling to make ends meet on his monthly welfare pittance of $721; the man whose doctor writes him a prescription for healthful food to manage his diabetes, but who can’t afford to buy the food; the skilled refugee who can’t get a job in Canada because he doesn’t speak English; the large family that lives in a single room at the shelter; and the kids who go to school hungry because their parents can’t afford food.

Karen and her band of dedicated volunteers at Parkdale believe that nutritious, wholesome food is a basic human right, and is fundamental to building positive physical, mental, and emotional health. The solution is food, community and connection. Their programs build on these three elements to help their clients.

For instance, Parkdale’s Thirteen: A Social Enterprise is an entrepreneurial program that helps young people start and run a business making and selling muesli, and has expanded into spice blends. The idea was a complete success; thanks to the support of local business owners, several younger Parkdale clients now have hands-on experience of starting a business from scratch right from designing the product, to sourcing raw material, assembling, packaging and marketing it.

Parkdale’s Growing Futures program went one step further, encouraging kids and the local community to grow their own food. The program uses hydroponic indoor growing towers to grow fresh produce and herbs all year. The towers are installed in the community, and participating children tend to the plants, harvest and sell the produce as-is, or turn the produce into marketable products like pesto. Local businesses that support the program teach financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills to the kids involved.

The Centre also runs many programs that are smaller in scale, but large in terms of impact, thinking “beyond food banking,” as Karen says. For instance, they conducted four workshops for elementary school “solutionaries” about getting involved in their communities.  At the recently held “Bring Food Home” conference, Parkdale clients presented on being a newcomer to Canada and entrepreneurship.

Recently, the Centre publicized a “100 Neighbours Strong” campaign to encourage at least 100 members of the community to become monthly donors. Local businesses helped get the message out by placing informational brochures and notices in their storefronts.

Karen says it is often not easy to predict their operating budget for the month. A few extra meals for hungry clients in one month might mean less cash the next month to meet clients’ needs. Regular monthly donations help Parkdale plan their spending.

Her greatest worry is Parkdale’s shortfall this season. Karen is banking on the generosity of Kitchissippi residents to help.

Every November, volunteers deliver about 800 postcards in the area, reminding people that Parkdale needs help. This year, Parkdale is supplementing this effort with Beyond the Street, a program to help tap into the generosity of local businesses that might not have a visible storefront. KWC Architects, Parkdale’s long-time supporter have donated $5000 and are urging other businesses to also provide cash donations.

Karen is hopeful that the generosity and support of the community will pull Parkdale through another busy season. As she points out, we can do better for our neighbours in need.

For more information about donating to Parkdale, please visit

Leave a comment