By Charlie Senack
The Parkdale Food Centre has proven to be a vital part of the Kitchissippi neighbourhood. That may be more apparent than ever due to the COVID-19 partnerships and programs the organization has created.
When government restrictions forced the closure of all non-essential services in mid March, many social service providers could no longer operate in the way they did prior to the pandemic. That meant many clients who relied on them for warm meals would go without them.
“People became accustomed to eating a hot meal at lunch and dinner and they were no longer able to access those meals which we saw as a big gap which emerged very quickly, and we wanted to fulfill that need,” said Erica Braunovan, the Ottawa community food partnership coordinator at the Parkdale Food Centre.
“We also noticed that the restaurants in our neighborhood and across the city were finding it hard to drum up business and were needing to see additional support,” she added.
That’s when a new program called ‘Cooking For a Cause’ was started at the centre.
The initiative, which has quickly grown, works with 14 restaurants in Ottawa to make 3,000 meals a week. As of July 3, Braunovan, who spearheaded the program, said 20,000 meals have been provided to the less fortunate in Ottawa, including many Kitchissippi community members. Those meals included 5,000 litres of soup and 4,500 loaves of bread or bags of bagels.
The Wellington Gastropub, The Urban Element, Ottawa Bagel Shop and Deli, Thyme & Again and Bread By Us are among the Kitchissippi neighbourhood businesses that have cooked meals weekly.
“We started to get restaurants to make the meals and then we were able to deliver them to people who needed food through the social service operators that were no longer able to have food-basic programming like they did prior to the Covid outbreak,” said Braunovan.
The food is handed out to clients of the Parkdale Food Centre and at 20 other social service agencies across the city including Cornerstone Housing for Women, Somerset West Community Health Centre and the Caldwell Family Centre, to name just a few.
They are all fresh, high-quality meals which we’ve become accustomed to having in our daily lives, said Braunovan, but is something that means a lot to those who are struggling to put food on the table.
“It shows the dignity and respect that means so much to us here at Parkdale,” said Braunovan. “It demonstrates that members of their community believe that they deserve healthy, nutritious and delicious food.”
“People are saying to us that they have never felt this good,” echoed Parkdale Food Centre Executive Director Karen Secord. “They have never eaten food like this. One guy said we are eating food like other people do. Another said for the first time in his life, he is finally gaining weight.”
The Parkdale Food Centre was among a long list of organizations that had to change their business model in the wake of the pandemic.
The centre, which provided food to over 100 families a week before the pandemic, always prided itself on its open door, collaborative policy which brought the community together.
Secord said the centre had to shut its doors and start operating without its volunteers in mid-March after being mandated to do so by the provincial government. All Parkdale Food Centre staff were then assigned to look after the packaging and collecting of food. She said four staff members are currently doing the job of 30 volunteers.
When it comes to re-opening the centre for in-person meals and activities, Secord said the size of their space has brought many limitations. The centre staff are waiting to see how Phase 3 pans out before making any decisions.
“A few weeks ago, on a Monday morning, when Ontario entered Stage 2, there was a lineup outside the door with people excited to come in. People think because it’s now Phase 3 we are now open but that’s not the case,” said Secord. “We want to open but our space is just not big enough.”
“The question we keep asking ourselves is ‘how we are going to manage that [while] enforcing social distancing and keeping our staff and clients safe?’” she added. “We are not ready for that just yet.”
The Cooking For a Cause program costs $12,000 a week to run and public support is needed to keep it going.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the city donated close to $100,000 to the program but that lasted a little over two months.
A GoFundMe page started by Bread by Us has raised an additional $17,000 while another GoFundMe created by Marcie’s Café has raised over $25,000.
“When you donate to Cooking For a Cause, it goes directly to the food and to helping the businesses in the community,” Secord said.
Anyone who wishes to donate can do so on the Parkdale Food Centre’s website which can be found at http://www.parkdalefoodcentre.ca
*This story is featured in the Giving section of Kitchissippi Times.