Feeding Community Spirit Published on April 29, 2015

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If you've ever built a new home or embarked on an extensive renovation, you know what a difference it makes to have a space tailor-made for your needs. The Parkdale Food Centre in Hintonburg was recently able to fit up a bright, welcoming new location from which it is now delivering food, comfort and support to thousands of people each year. 

The PFC's co-ordinator, Karen Secord, saw an incredible opportunity when space became available in the same building that houses the new Rosemount branch of the Somerset West Community Health Centre. "We knew right away that co-locating with other essential social services would help us towards our goal of being a true community hub for neighbours in need," says Karen. After a few months of planning and securing grants, a whirlwind five-week renovation took place, enabling the PFC to occupy the space in early December.

"We envisioned a place which was open and warm, with a large kitchen as its main space," explains Karen. "Handing out food is one of our mandates, but educating people about food security and preparing healthy meals in a communal fashion are equally important aspects of our work here."

PFC board member and architectural technologist Lynda Hansen was instrumental in the creation of the centre's new home. She and Karen served as project managers and Lynda's expertise was essential in liaising with the design team from KWC Architects, as well as all the various subtrades and volunteer labourers who worked swiftly to get the space ready.

 "So many people literally dropped what they were doing to help us. And we are so grateful for groups like the Keller Williams Foundation for Giving, Brigil and the Taggart Parkes Foundation, whose contributions made not only this space but our new leased van possible."

Numerous cheerful features contribute to the homey atmosphere in the PFC, from the barnboard bookcases that house a library of donated cookbooks, to the bright curtains, photographs of local landmarks and the large canvas painted as a tribute to Ottawa's Hidden Harvest program, with which the PFC is involved.

Lynda says that allocating the largest amount of space possible to the kitchen was intentional. "We love that it doesn't feel institutional and it gives us more opportunities to engage people in the process of making and sharing food," she explains. "We have so many cooking activities that go on here, including having local chefs donate their expertise while clients learn new techniques and nutrition tips, and then sit down to share the meal they've prepared. In addition, sports teams and business groups cook in the licensed kitchen, preparing baked goods and other items to distribute to clients."  

Food distribution is handled in a caring manner. Volunteers slide open barnboard doors leading to the large pantry, where clients are helped to select their own food based on a curated list of proteins, grains, vegetables, snacks and perishables. 

The only downside to the PFC's new location has been that the increased visibility is leading to increased traffic. "Since December, our numbers are up by 30 per cent," says Karen. "People love what we are doing here, but it is hard to keep up with demand."

The PFC will hold its second annual gala on May 7 to raise funds and awareness. "One of our primary goals is to maintain a place that helps to break down social isolation," adds Karen. "When we see volunteers coming in early and clients lingering to visit after they pick up their food, we know the new space is working as we had hoped."

Paula Roy is one of the guest instructors leading classes in the Parkdale Food Centre's well-equipped new kitchen.




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