Chandler-Mowat Community Centre: Unity in Diversity

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On Thursday August 5, Lianna and I visited the last community centre, Chandler-Mowat, to complete our four-part series along with, Sunnydale of Waterloo, Courtland-Shelley and Kingsdale of Kitchener. When our program supervisor first introduced us to this assignment, he pitched it as “a process to profile four community centres operated by House of Friendship”. Neither one of us had any idea what it meant exactly to profile the community centres. However, by the end of our visit to Chandler-Mowat, the 20-year-old community centre, it is safe to say that all four locations share one thing in common: food is being used as a means to build meaningful relationships and strong communities. Serving a neighbourhood comprised (mostly) of subsidized and low income housing for families, Chandler-Mowat’s community centre is run jointly between the City of Kitchener, the Chandler-Mowat Neighbourhood Association and House of Friendship. Like most other communities that we visited in the past weeks, residents in the area are immigrants from every corner of the world, with an exceptionally high concentration from areas such as northern Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“This is not a permanent residential community,” explained Jeremy, the supervisor of the centre. “This is a very transient community, most members of the community that come here see it as a shelter after they’ve landed in Canada”.

Food distribution takes place on every Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m. in the community centre, a very new and nice facility that reminds me much of a smaller version of YMCA, with high ceilings, bright windows, large meeting areas and of course, friendly staff.

Guided by the noise that came from the gymnasium, Lianna and I gingerly made our way to its source, all the while glancing over the hundreds of brochures and information about the centre’s programming which hung on the walls. Eventually, we were at the door of the gymnasium where four or five volunteers had already started preparing for the event. Though many speak different languages, they were able to work effectively in groups by using body gestures. Two volunteers were in the very front, and one sat with her legs crossed, separating zucchinis and potatoes into groups of four or five for each bag. The bag would then be passed to two volunteers who would tie it up.

“We pre-package our food and hand it out to patrons,” said one of the Farsi-speaking volunteers. “We can distribute food items faster and keep the place nice and clean, so we have a shorter clean-up time.” Although very few words were exchanged between them, the volunteers were able to work together just as efficiently as an automobile assembly line.

Next to the bagged zucchinis were the blueberries and corn that was delivered earlier that morning by Emergency Food Hamper Program’s (EFHP) driver, Salvador. One box of blueberries was packed with three or four cobs in one bag, which would later be given away along with the zucchini and potato bags.

We spotted something we’ve seen so far only at Chandler-Mowat: at the far side of the room, a table was dedicated to books and stuffed animals, and another one next to it was occupied by children’s clothing, all donated by other members of the community.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, doors were opened to the patrons who waited patiently outside the gymnasium, a multipurpose room that hosts events from basketball to food distribution. People were coming through the door in a very organized, slow-paced and light-mooded manner, no one was pushing and trying to get in front of another person.

“What we give out is obviously not a full week’s worth of food,” explained Aline, the outreach worker of the centre. “It’s just a supplement.” The nature of the food hamper determines the order of the event: at EFHP, one of the largest food assistance programs in Kitchener/Waterloo, the food hampers given out each day are usually the only source of food and energy for certain individuals or families for three to five days.

About 30 to 35 households showed up to receive a food hamper on Thursday; each got a bag of zucchinis and potatoes and a bag of blueberries and corn. While the adults were chatting and updating their neighbours on their latest jobs and life events, children found their playground around the books table. Many of them, aged from 4 to 14, curiously glanced at the title of each book to try and find the hidden treasure within. Younger kids favored stuffed animals over literature, and some started twisting a teddy bear into a ball shape and throwing it up at the basketball rim.

“Many patrons are from different backgrounds” Francine, who was volunteering for the third time for the organization, told us while bagging the zucchinis. “The level of English is very low amongst volunteers. Many Farsi-speaking members meet and communicate with each other as volunteers while being a part of the food distribution.” Francine shared with us that that the most rewarding part of volunteering for her is getting to meet and interact with others.

What was once an empty gymnasium turned into a huge living room with guests from all over the place; kids were running around freely, though some parents were keeping a close eye on their juniors to make sure no collisions would happen.

Though still in severe shortage in many places of the world, food consumption at Chandler-Mowat has been translated into something that truly benefits and enriches people’s lives. The common need for food has provided an excellent opportunity for communities to build meaningful and lasting relationships. As the assignment of profiling four community centres’ food distribution has come to an end, something Gretchen Jones of St. John’s Kitchen once told me echoed in my mind: food is not a gift, it is a right.

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One Response to “Chandler-Mowat Community Centre: Unity in Diversity”

  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 […]

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