Tenants and community partners bring affordable and accessible food programs into communities

Tenants and community partners bring affordable and accessible food programs into communities

December 21, 2016

​​​​​​​​​​​With the cost of food, rent, utilities and bills on the rise, more families are finding themselves making a difficult choice: putting food on the table or having a roof over their heads. 

“We really need something to make food more affordable,” said Andrew, Superintendent​ at Toronto Community Housing. “Not everyone can afford quality food for their family.” 

There are more than 20 food banks and food programs available to households living in Toronto Community Housing, across the city. Community partners and volunteers are working hard to ensure that families have an option and do not have to make that difficult choice. 

All food banks and food programs within Toronto Community Housing properties are looking forward to supporting families through the holiday season and to make sure that everyone can have food on the table. 

Tenants and agencies are the driving force behind food programs

Hundreds of families line up every week waiting to receive food boxes across the city. “Not being able to afford food is affecting everyone in the community,” said Linh, Community Development Worker at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre.

Community leaders and partners dedicate countless hours in order to prepare food boxes for the community, and to make sure that tenants have access to affordable food. 

“We do not know everyone's financial situation, but it helps to receive supplementary food,” said Jackie, a volunteer at the Glendower Food Bank.

Every community with a food program is unique in how it works, but all share a similar story: to combat the food security issue that persists in their community.

Glendower Food Bank

Every Thursday morning, around 100 families living in the Glendower community bring their bins to a common room where the food bank is located. For the past five years, Tenant Representative Michelle and her team of volunteers have worked together to prepare food bins for households in the community.  

“Households are categorized by size: small, medium, large and extra-large,” said Michelle. “The larger the families, the more food we provide to them.”
A photo of the Glendower’s food bank team working hard to prepare food bins for households. 
Glendower’s food bank team working hard to prepare food bins for households.

Most families pick up their bins when the food bank opens in the afternoon, while there are some households who get it delivered to their door. Volunteers at this food bank make sure that the food provided to each household is respectful to their needs.

“Families have said they enjoy the program, but they would like more food—​especially dairy products,” said Michelle. “Bread, cheese and milk are high in demand since families use these products every day.”

A photo showing an example of the type of food tenants receive in their food bin.
A sample of what tenants can expect to receive in their food bin.​

The Glendower Food bank receives food from local donations and from Second Harvest.  "We try to give families in the same category the same amount of foodwe wish there was food available to the community," said Michelle. "We can only provide what we get." However, with the recent switch to Second Harvest and a schedule change, the group has been seeing an increase of food available for the community.

"Things are looking great," said Michelle. "We can also provide food such as juice, water, snacks and chocolates to the kids in the afterschool program run by the other Tenant Representative, Ms. Gibson-Sealy​." The Glendower Food Bank is not only a place where they can get their weekly bins, but information as well. Posters of community events, programs and job opportunities are placed in every family bin.

"We are looking to make the program bigger and better by working with other organizations," Michelle added. The food bank is also in the process of getting a charity number and looking for opportunities to receive more donations.

"The food bank is very beneficial to the community," said Jackie. "A lot of residents need that extra help and appreciate it."​
A photo of Michelle (right) and Jackie (left).
Jackie (left) and Michelle (right) help lead the food bank at Glendower every week. 

Thistletown Food Bank

Operating since 1973, the Thistletown Food Bank serves up to 2,200 families a month. ​
A photo of the exterior of the Thistletown food bank.
Photo of the Thistletown Food Bank, in the heart of the Jamestown community.

With the increase of new people moving into the community, the numbers keep growing, with additional families coming every week.

“Food goes out faster than it comes in,” said Eda, a Food Bank Coordinator. “There is a high demand for pasta, peanut butter, corn, peas, tuna, milk, canned tomatoes, baby food and diapers. As a result, there is not always enough supplies for every community.” 

A photo of boxes of food on shelves.
Food stored in boxes, ready to be sorted out for the community. 

The food bank currently receives donations from Second Harvest, North York Harvest and donations from the public. It is open to the Jamestown community three days a week. Families are able to use the food bank, twice a month.

Serving up to 2,220 families a month, the Thistletown Food Bank has become more than a service for the community.

"People depend on us," said Eda. "I could be sitting at home, but I choose to help out."

The Thistletown Food Bank is looking to expand and provide more food programs for the community in the new year, including using the kitchen of the townhouse unit in which it is located for food programs and cooking class.

"All of us working at the food bank enjoy being here," said Eda. "We are helping out somebody making a difference for the community."​
​​A photo of the kitchen at the Thistletown food bank.
The Thistletown Food Bank hopes to expand by adding cooking programs. ​

150 Dan Leckie Way's Good Food Box Program

Up to 20 households pick up their Good Food box every other Wednesday at 150 Dan Leckie Way. Just over a year ago, Michele stepped up to the plate to lead the Good Food Box program when the residents wanted the program back in their building.

FoodShare Toronto​ has partnered with the residents of Dan Leckie and the neighbouring community Bishop Tutu for almost 20 years on various projects and programs.

"Residents of Dan Leckie said that the Good Food Box Program is something that they really need in the community," said Linh, Community Development Worker at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre​. "Michele said she is here to help and we can bring it back into the community." Partnering up once again with FoodShare Toronto and Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre​, the program was once restored back into the community.

"The point of the Good Food Box program is that it is affordable and quality food," said Michele. "Residents pay a small fee and select the box that they want." Households are able to a select a good food box ranging from small, large, organic, wellness and fruit.

"You get local produce for the most part. Everything is fresh, with no preservatives," said Michele.  

The Good Food Box program at 150 Dan Leckie is successful because of the contributions from all the members involved.

"The Superintendent of 150 Dan Leckie, Andrew has been a big support for this program. He make sure that the food is stored when it arrives in the day and make sure that the room it is stored in is at an appropriate temperature," Michele added.

Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre​ has expressed interest in working with Toronto Community Housing staff and the community to expand the Good Food Box program and to bring more opportunities to the community in the new year. They are looking to potentially expand the Good Food Box Program to the Good Food Marketallowing the entire community to have access to local produce year​-​round. At the very least, they are looking to work with Toronto Community Housing to find ways to spread the word about the program.

"We will continue to support this program and this community as needed," said Gaby, Community Development Manager at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre​​. ​

A photo Gaby, Linh, Michele and Andrew (left to right) are the driving force behind the Good Box Program at 150 Dan Leckie Way.​
Gaby, Linh, Michele and Andrew (left to right) are the driving force behind the Good Box Program at 150 Dan Leckie Way.​

Do you know about an interesting program happening in your community that is improving the lives of residents? Tell us. Send an email to public.affairs@torontohousing.ca​.​