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Oct24MonThrough simple actions and education, an Ontario food bank is nurturing healthy habits October 24, 2011 by Julia Hosking
Have you ever been handed a bag of beets or bunch of Swiss chard and wondered how to cook it? Clients at The Salvation Army's Midland Community Church food bank, Ont., can now accept those vegetables with confidence, thanks to the centre's fresh food initiatives.
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- Territorial News
“Every Wednesday, volunteers demonstrate to our clients how to cook and prepare food, such as berries with granola or broccoli stir-fry,” explains Peter Thomas, community and family services director, Midland Community Church. “The clients sit around a central table as they wait for their interview and watch a cooking school. Everyone gets to eat a sample of it and then they're given the product to take home and replicate what they learned at our food bank with their family.”
The idea to integrate these skills into the food bank's ministry began when Carol Peterson, a retired nursing instructor who has a passion for nutrition, started volunteering several years ago. At the same time, community member, Gwen Crump started a Gift of Life organic garden and wanted to use its harvest to help people in need. These two women helped fulfil Thomas' vision to counteract the typical food bank diet.
“When I first started at the food bank, I heard a study that said 40 percent of single moms on Ontario Works were grossly overweight. That shocked me. Then I discovered that when you flip over a can, you see high sodium and high carbohydrates. A lot of the foods that are 'affordable' are not good for you,” he says.
“We want to intentionally show people how to shop and produce healthy meals at a low cost, as well as encourage donors to give healthier products such as whole-wheat pasta and low-sodium canned goods.”
As awareness grew, other organizations, such as the Huronia Museum's Three Sisters Garden and Sainte Marie Among the Hurons historical site, and individuals began to offer their donations to the largest food bank in the region that serves more than 230 households a month.
“We did a hunger awareness campaign last year and part of that was a 'plant a row, grow a row' initiative where we handed out garden seeds and encouraged people to give us the produce,” says Thomas. “Since then, we've received boxes of pears, a half-tonne truck of squash and 50 pound bags of carrots from various individuals. There are many people looking for avenues to help us and the people we serve.”
Outside of the harvest season, food bank volunteers purchase the produce to be demonstrated and distributed to clients. They specifically select items that are in season or on sale, a lesson that clients can apply to their shopping habits.
Prior to the launch of the live cooking demonstrations, Midland food bank ran a DVD series produced by Central United Church in Barrie, Ont., which taught viewers how to pick produce that was fresh and seasonal, and then how to prepare the chosen items. This was met with a positive response and eventually led to the more interactive, live demonstrations, which have also been well-received.
“Early into the program, a client walked in during the demonstration with her hoodie on. She kept her head down, put her back to the wall and simply waited for her appointment,” recalls Thomas. “When I interviewed her, she said 'I suffer from depression and when I walked in today, I wasn't in a good spot. But I'm leaving today better than how I came in because of the laughter during the demonstration and the way you welcomed me.' Her positive response reinforced that what we were doing was a step forward in the right direction.”
The cooking school has also flowed into the church's senior's lunch connection, which takes place every second week. There, fresh and nutritious food is prepared for seniors with plenty left over for them to take home and re-heat.
Furthermore, the food bank has supported the Good Food Box program organized by Community Link that allows people in the community to purchase a box of fruit and vegetables at a reduced cost. These have been distributed to clients with their Christmas hampers the past two years to help further their education and encourage nutritional eating.
“The clients appreciate and enjoy our fresh food initiatives,” comments Thomas. “Volunteers love seeing the smiles when they tell clients that in addition to their canned goods they're receiving some fresh food.”
To learn more about nutrition in Salvation Army food banks and other centres, please read the third annual food services report, “Restocking the Shelves 2011.”