That’s because coming here is about so much more than food. Sure, everyone learns about healthy eating, but they also develop relationships that foster self-esteem and dignity. Plus, the program offers free childcare. For some, this is the only break they get from single parenting and, as volunteer Jennifer Prager puts it, the lunch they’re cooking together may well be the first thing some have eaten that day.
Jennifer has been volunteering with the community kitchen (a partnership with Community Food Centres Canada) since it started up last fall. “I am a volunteer lifer,” says Jennifer, who has donated her time to many organizations over the past 20 years. Lending her skills to the centre was an easy choice. When her kids were younger, she made friends and found support there, often visiting three or four times each week. “It’s a way of saying thanks for all that the centre has done for me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be who I am today, as a person or as a parent, if it weren’t for the centre.”
Amanda Purvis, one of the participants in the community kitchen program, understands this sentiment. A single mom to a two- and a four-year-old, she takes part in all the kitchen events. “My kids have really benefitted. I’ve learned how to cook with fresh ingredients and make healthier meals,” she says. “This is also accessible to me. I’ve made friends here, and having adult conversation is the best.”
The kitchen means a lot to this community. It isn’t just moms who attend, either -- you’re as likely to see fixed-income seniors looking for friendly conversation.
“This is a place where people can get out of their homes, build a sense of community and have access to and learn about healthful food,” says Jennifer. The collective kitchen will soon move to the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, engaging the community with even more programs. “We’ll be reaching more people, which is wonderful,” says Jennifer.
When the cooking is done on this day, participants and volunteers sit down to share a wonderfully fresh and healthful meal. (No one gets to cook and run -- the togetherness is an important part of the program.) And those tacos some people were hesitant to try? They’re a hit.
“As a volunteer, I don’t see myself as any different from the individuals I work with in the community kitchens,” says Jennifer. “We all have something to offer. The person who is great with breads makes the biscuits, some of us are content chopping vegetables and others are happy to pull it all together at the stove. To me, our time in the kitchen represents what could happen in the bigger community.”