Visiting Kingsdale Community Centre: The Benefits of Traffic Jams

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Following our visits to the Sunnydale and Courtland-Shelley community centres, EFHP sent Lucas and I to discover the role of emergency food distribution at the Kingsdale Community Centre.  We came away with tired feet and many reflections on how food insecurity presents unique challenges to this large, diverse neighbourhood.

First, a bit of context: Kingsdale is a Kitchener community of about 19,000 households, many of them made up of low-income or new Canadian families. Kingsdale settlement worker Chander Gosain shared that many are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Latin American countries.  Our tour through the Kingsdale Community Centre, run jointly between the Kingsdale Neighbourhood Association (KNA), House of Friendship, and the City of Kitchener, reveals rooms for programs such as sewing circles, settlement assistance, outreach, dance clubs, piano and guitar lessons, and after school clubs.

Many of these households benefit from a little extra food assistance during the week, a seemingly small undertaking that calls for dozens of volunteers and meticulous organization. Last year the program helped approximately 2500 individuals. Taking on this challenge is KNA President Janet Lilley, who shares that between 80-100 households are helped each week by the deliveries of excess produce from EFHP and non-perishables and frozen foods from the food bank.

When Janet chuckled at Lucas’ sandals, we knew that we wouldn’t be just passive observers. After a trip back to EFHP for Lucas’s steel-toed boots, we were ready for, as regular volunteer Margaret put it, “A real treat.”  We first piled the newly-delivered prickly pears, corn, zucchinis, bananas, and lettuce high around the indoor distribution tables, and soon patrons were received at the mini-intake desk in the lobby. What followed was an hour and a half of organized chaos.

Each household was given four tickets – purple, white, green and orange – which represent different food distribution tables. I was lucky to be named master of the purple table for the day, supervising only the canned meat, pasta and sauce. A long line of community members would first pass the miscellaneous and snack tables before they reached mine. Unlike here at EFHP, we did not take account of the household’s family size: everyone received the same amount of food. It was interesting to see that even families of six received only one can of tuna and pasta sauce and one small box of pasta in exchange for their purple ticket.

Some community members pushed and shoved to receive the best of my table, but most were gracious and patient. It was certainly a more mature crowd; in contrast to Courtland-Shelley, community members under the age of 18 are not allowed to pick up food for their households, and children under the age of 6 can’t tag along. Thankfully, children can be dropped off at the Kingsdale daycare where volunteers will watch them for the 1:30-3 pm hamper blitz. And because of the heavy flow of people and the frequent traffic jams in front of my table, it was hard to miss the sporadic conversations that took place between strangers in line.

While one younger gentleman was stopped at my table he asked if he could receive extra pasta and sauce to make up for the canned meat he declined for religious reasons. I knew the rules, and gave him a firm “no” – but this immediately caught the attention of the two community members behind him. One lady began to inquire as to why he couldn’t stomach a can of Spam. After he began to describe his Hindu philosophy, the lady became more and more intrigued; the conversation continued while the line began to move, and she discretely dropped her own bag of pasta into his shopping bag. This happened again when two gentlemen were discussing the “woes of Tuna” – how Tuna was a constant unavoidable staple in their diets – and offered theirs to the man behind them who made clear he couldn’t survive without it. This sparked a lively conversation about the mercury content of fish, which carried on to the next table.

Such little interactions may not seem very exciting, but to me, they are moments of community empowerment. Kingsdale faces a challenge that we’re familiar with here at EFHP. Unlike the Sunnydale and Courtland-Shelley communities, Kingsdale is composed of thousands of households; chances are, you won’t see too many family familiar faces if you’re a regular user of the program.  Instead of exchanging recipes with neighbours in a marketplace atmosphere, like at the other community centres, patrons may feel isolated and see the experience as something to get over with fast. However, the frequent traffic jams at my table allowed community members to discuss their diet preferences, philosophies, and food in general; food insecurity was made a collective rather than individual challenge, and the shared cans of tuna and pasta were glimmers of community ownership in tackling it.

Lucas had much less time for reflection, assigned to oversee the bustling “white” table – or more so towering structure – of fresh produce. Thankfully, he was given help by regular volunteer Shama. Volunteers put in collectively 200 hours a week of work, packaging, storing and distributing the food.  Shama is a community member who has devoted about a year to this hard work. She got involved, as she explains it, because she frequently used the program services, and felt she “couldn’t just do nothing.” But for her, the most important part of volunteering is “getting to meet people in my community – it feels good in my heart.”  When she hands food to them, she shares, “they thank me, and I wonder – why are they thanking me? I didn’t do anything!”

But Shama’s weekly contribution couldn’t be more important. As she gets to know community members, maybe encouraging some to volunteer themselves, she’s demonstrating that food insecurity is a shared challenge and not a burden that individual Kingsdale members must tackle on their own.

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2 Responses to “Visiting Kingsdale Community Centre: The Benefits of Traffic Jams”

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

    […] program. To get some background on each community centre, you can read previous blog posts here, here, here, and […]

  2. Volunteer Spotlight: Iris « Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] at the Kingsdale community centre. I also work in the food distribution program there, participate in groups and am involved in […]

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