The Strathcona Community Centre Food Security Program
by Stan Shaffer
Strathcona is a diverse and vibrant community with many of its residents living in poverty and/or who are recent immigrants. The Strathcona Community Centre (SCC) Food Security Program headed by Lauren Brown and Lorraine Holubowich contains an impressive diversity of interconnected services to help meet the food needs of the neighbourhood. These include breakfast, Backpack (weekend food access support for families), cooking fun for families, Backpack community kitchen, healthy child/youth snack, youth Friday night cooking, farm and farmer’s market trips, and more.
Lauren is the SCC food security coordinator and joined in April 2013 after working for the First Nations Health Authority as a health planner and gaining experience with nutrition and food security. She moved to SCC because she wanted more hands on rapport with people and the opportunity to work within community-based programs. She has found her new job extremely rewarding.
Lorraine is in charge of the Backpack program, having previously worked in an AIDS transition house where she provided nutrition and medication support. She has an outdoor recreation diploma from Capilano College and has training in health care and nutrition. Four years ago she inquired about volunteering and was subsequently awarded a vacant staff position! Originally working only two hours a week, Lorraine’s position and role has grown throughout the years.
The Backpack program provides a variety of services including dignified access to food for local families over the weekends when some of the regular food services are suspended. Importantly, the program has taken steps to transition from the charity food model, where people are passive recipients of already packaged food, toward a more active participation model where people have the opportunity to mingle and choose their own food items in a market-like environment. Participants can also become involved in all aspects of food production (farm trips), cooking, and communal sharing. This includes trips to farms and farmers markets, shopping and community kitchens, as well as joining the programs’ volunteer positions to encourage families to become more involved. Since the DTES is also home to many recent immigrants, food shopping practice helps people learn real world survival skills.
Lorraine organizes trips with parents and kids to farms and markets. Farm trips to Surrey engage participants in a variety of agricultural experiences as well as picking blueberries! A summertime community kitchen program is available for adults, and child-oriented food activities are available for whose who can’t leave their children at home.
Fundraising is an ongoing part of sustaining the SCC food programs as they do not receive any ongoing core funding. Lauren engages in fundraising but it is mainly Ron Suzuki, a Parks Board employee, who is revered for his dedication and networking ability to raise funds for the programs. He can often be found at the community centre seven days a week in addition to events around the city in support of the SCC.
Lorraine says programs that encourage first-hand experience demonstrate that people have gifts. They become visible to themselves and others, grow in dignity, offer their special talents, and build friendships. Akina, for example, who was a volunteer in the program, now attends a UBC social work program and has returned for a summer of service.
To develop skills and confidence, residents have access to many training programs, such as cooking, food safe, kitchen first aid and fire safety, and leadership, all of which encourage them to assume more active roles. These training programs are available to volunteers and community kitchen participants.
Lorraine uses the word “sparks” to describe ways in which people and groups become energized. Here’s three stories which illustrate how all these programs and communal supports help to produce confident, independent, contributing citizens:
A new immigrant moved to Canada and joined the community kitchen. She accessed the leadership training and is now in the process of starting her own community kitchen.
Awoman was laid off and joined the community kitchen program. She accessed a variety of training workshops from food safe to leadership. Now she is employed at SCC in capacities that utilize her cooking and food safe skills.
Lance returned to his original family home in Strathcona and has been involved with the community kitchen open house planning committee and two community kitchen groups. He also initiated a Friday casual supper group at his own home for about six people, most of whom he has met through his involvement at the SCC. Lance is also spear-heading an ambitious project called “We Are All One Community Fair” which will bring together parents, special needs children, and resource groups to an event in October, which is Inclusion Month.
It was a pleasure for me to meet these knowledgeable and dedicated leaders who galvanize DTES individuals, parents, and children to live healthier, more productive, and fulfilled lives.