Stone Soup at Sunnydale

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In many ways, food distribution here at House of Friendship travels outside of the food hamper box.  Excess food from the hamper program, for example, is taken to HoF’s residential programs and community centres to assist with their programming. Lucas and I were given the task of visiting the Sunnydale Community Centre to observe how they distribute this food and swap some knowledge about KW food insecurity. What we discovered was not simply a table covered in fruits and vegetables, but a bustling, social space where community members can build relationships over the common need for food.

We were lucky enough to have our Sunnydale tour guide as “John 1”, the first in a set of three Johns who have contributed years of crucial volunteer hours to Sunnydale’s weekly food distribution. John shared that the Sunnydale Community Association (SCA) started its programming for the 200-household, North Waterloo community about 15 years ago. With food insecurity as a persistent problem, the SCA and Emergency Food Hamper Program started a partnership 5 years later. Since then, deliveries of fruits and vegetables from EFHP have become an important addition to the diets of many community members.

The first thing Lucas and I noticed was the bustling, excitable atmosphere around the two food tables in front of the tiny Community Centre; recipients of food were indistinguishable from volunteers, as everyone congregated around the bins of fresh produce that had been delivered that morning by the three Johns. Cakes and other snacks donated by Schaaf Foods drew another chatting group at the side of the tables. John 1 recalls that the program was not always this way: “It began in a breadline manner, inside…and then one day I said, ‘Why not outside’. Now it’s like a marketplace.” He shared that volunteers and staff were at first apprehensive about this change, some worried about the risk of stolen food. But this has rarely been a problem, and the benefits of an outdoor atmosphere certainly show.

Neighbours had space to laugh and chat on that particularly sunny Thursday, discussing interesting recipe ideas for the newly arrived Mexican “prickly pear”, while children who came on their bikes for some lettuce or Swiss Chard retired to the playground together after their journey.  The program director of the centre, Linda, shared that anywhere from 30-50 households can be served during this weekly 11-12:30 Thursday “marketplace.” Because the community is largely composed of new Canadians or refugees from African or Asian backgrounds, she says, the community benefits less from non-perishables, and more from whole foods such as beans, rice, and vegetables. While we were chatting, John 1 returned a Tupperware container to a recipient who had offered it to him the week before, filled with traditional Indian cooking. Such an act truly demonstrates the appreciation that many recipients have for HoF’s weekly deliveries and volunteers. In many other cases, volunteers have formed positive relationships with recipients. One regular recipient whom volunteers are familiar with is “Grandfather”, a long-time community member whose limited English has kept him from truly getting to know the Sunnydale volunteers he’s encountered for years.  Lucas’s Mandarin was able to come in handy here. When asked about his feelings toward the food distribution volunteers, Grandfather shared that he felt the 3 Johns were his “brothers”.  Thus, even while facing the reality of their food insecurity, recipients still contribute to the atmosphere of sharing and fellowship that the marketplace and its volunteers have helped to create.

Indeed, volunteers are crucial to the food distribution process: last year, approximately 2,000 volunteer hours were contributed.  Although many, like the three Johns, are from outside the Sunnydale community, some of the 5-10 weekly volunteers are recipients themselves. While this may appear to present a risk of food theft, it rather seems to have built a stronger connection between the centre and community members, giving them some ownership over tackling food insecurity.  

Linda mentioned a recent Sunnydale event that illustrates the importance of such community ownership, which was based on the philosophy of the folktale “Stone Soup.”  Like in this children’s story, community centre volunteers began to boil water in a large pot at the centre of the houses, drawing at first curious children and then other family members off their lawns and out of their homes and encouraging them to contribute anything they could to the pot. Sunnydale’s multiethnic community produced some interesting ingredients: bamboo root and Chinese mushrooms, for example. The resulting mass of soup was packaged and given out at the following Thursday’s marketplace. The common need for food not only brought fellow community members out in the open to chat and bond, but also allowed the community centre to be a perfect venue for spreading the news about events, such as garage sale fundraisers, and programs, such as knitting circles or cooking classes. As John 1 so simply sums it up, “it’s not food distribution, it’s community development.”

Regardless of Thursday food distribution’s important role, there are still challenges such as a lack of reliable transportation and inconsistent food supplies from EFHP which can hinder the community members at Sunnydale from enjoying this service to its fullest. But as the Stone Soup event shows, community members will nevertheless continue to take ownership over fighting food insecurity in imaginative ways.

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2 Responses to “Stone Soup at Sunnydale”

  1. Loaves and fishes at Sunnydale « Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] one of four centres operated by the House of Friendship, and you may have read about it previously here on our […]

  2. Advocacy and family services programs at House of Friendship « Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] Though they’ve been quiet about it, our family programs have been doing advocacy since they began. Family programs at the House of Friendship include our four community centres (Chandler Mowat, Courtland Shelley, Kingsdale, and Sunnydale), as well as the camp sponsorship program. To get some background on each community centre, you can read previous blog posts here, here, here, and here. […]

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