It began as a food bank. It turned into a movement.
Since that time, The Stop has undergone a radical reinvention. Participation has overcome embarrassment, and the isolation of poverty has been replaced with a vibrant community that uses food to build hope and skills, and to reach out to those who need a meal, a hand and a voice. It is now a thriving, internationally respected Community Food Centre with gardens, kitchens, a greenhouse, farmers’ markets and a mission to revolutionize our food system. Celebrities and benefactors have embraced the vision because they have never seen anything like The Stop. Best of all, fourteen years after his journey started, Nick Saul is introducing this neighbourhood success story to the world.
It is a personal story first, it drew me in as a lowly food bank in one of the low income neighbourhoods in Toronto was struggling. The work was and is hard, that is one thing that won’t go away. They needed committed community volunteers, a desire, the need was apparent, and the drive to achieve their dreams. Did it work? Of course it did, it is still working since Nick Saul become Executive Director of The Stop in 1998 – 15 years he poured into a place where even the residents had given up, to make the immigrant community vibrant and flourishing once again. They took back their neighbourhood, sure it had taken time, effort and probably much more then they dreamed possible. I am sure that some wanted to give up, but in the end and as of today, it is a thriving part of the community – bringing people together, one person, one ethnicity at a time. To share in learning something new, making new friends, coming together – even the children, the babies, the elderly, and the not yet born to enjoy a good meal. Not something that came from a can – REAL FOOD when so many of the people who come to a food bank if you want to call it that to get something that they need in their time of hunger, loneliness, and gave the people to look forward to something, anything to be a part of something huge.
The real issue here is that sure, people nowadays are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. It just isn’t people who have low incomes, it is everyone. I had a conversation the other week in the grocery store with a woman, about how the produce was so much smaller, but it is either the same price or even more then it was a year ago. The sizes of just about everything in the grocery store are becoming smaller, yet the prices stay the same. We all deserve to have good food, we live in one of the most bountiful countries in the world. Even here in the Niagara Region where I live, there are still roadside stands where you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables by just pulling over and dropping money into a jar and taking what you like. I think that had to be the most favorite parts of living in the area. Of course, you could also talk to your neighbours while doing so. Catch up on what was or is going on with them, their families, the community. I live in the best part of Canada – We produce just about everything from fruits and vegetables to VQA award winning wines. What isn’t to love about this region?!?
The thing is that in the city where I live, the population is about 55,000, and there is 4-6 food banks where on a given day depending on which one you were at the week before, you can access all of them as far as I understand. One week you could go to the Salvation Army, the next The Hope Centre which is just down the same street. Get your fill of canned salt, fat, and carbohydrates and not much else. We have a good food box program of course, for a family of 2 for $15 or a larger family $20 you receive from what I have heard a really nice array of fruits and vegetables either grown in the region during the growing season, or around the other areas of Southern Ontario. Most are on social services here or disability, where I’m guessing some people don’t spend it as they should, and need to access these food banks either once in a while or frequently as the mood suits. I was actually in one a few weeks ago, accessing other services, and I have to say it’s pretty depressing. The clients were treated with respect, but what I got out of it was that they almost expected it to feed them for the entire month. – It doesn’t. It doesn’t even come close.
We need to change, we need to gather everyone together, to make a better plan for everyone. Not just Nick and Andrea who did this in Toronto – EVERYONE IN OUR COMMUNITIES rich or poor, healthy or sick need to come together and work at making it better for everyone. Making it a community that everyone is proud to be a part of, to have healthy, non-processed, food that everyone can enjoy. There are community gardens here, but on the other side of town. What good does that do for the other side? Nothing if you wanted to travel to garden. We need to come together and make a plan, a solid plan to make sure our communities most vulnerable aren’t lacking.
I urge everyone to go and get this book. Not just because you have to, but because you want to make change in your own communities. The stats in the book are just scary for a country like ours that has our resources. The “Food Bank” phenomenon was actually started in the USA, now they are starting them in Europe to see if it can work there. We need to stop these, and have our communities together on a solution and not a stop-gap effort. We should have started it decades ago, but I guess this is as good a time as any. Read every morsel that this book has to give and start making dialogue in your own community – and if the nay sayers put up a fuss then work harder. Get stubborn, get active and make your city or town better not worse.
People whether they are rich or poor have just as much worth. We all have gifts that we can give to our community. Lets get involved and make something of our gifts. If this neighbourhood in Toronto can do it, so can anyone else! What will it take ?!?