You’ve heard of food banks, but have you ever heard of a food resource centre?
United Way is hoping to change that in the Sault and Algoma district.
On July 16, the United Way launched Harvest Algoma – a food resource centre – in the former Croatian Hall at 446 Second Line East. Harvest Algoma is the United Way’s response to the food security pillar of the poverty reduction strategy for Sault Ste. Marie.
Food security is one of five pillars that was identified as a need in Sault Ste. Marie to both increase the amount of food, but also to diversify food sources so that people have more local control of where their food comes from and also have a direct hand in the production, such as through community gardens, more partnerships with farms and farmers in the district, etc.
Food insecurity is defined as insecure or inadequate access to food due to financial constraints and other factors.
According to a study published by PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research in October of 2017, nearly 13 per cent – one in eight – of households in Canada experience food insecurity. That’s more than 4 million people nationwide who don’t know where their next meal will come from.
The purpose of this food resource centre is to combat this issue. The centre will be used to receive and distribute surplus food and rescued food, as well as to process food that’s grown locally in the Sault and area and distribute that food to emergency food providers, such as soup kitchens or food banks, or remedial meal programs, like school programs or Christmas Cheer.
“It’s different than a food warehouse, because we will have other programs here, like training programs and cooking and food safety, and clubs that people can join, things like pickle exchanges and so forth,” said Mike Delfre, the director of operations for food security for the United Way. “It’s meant to grow the agricultural sector here in Sault Ste. Marie.”
The centre is only phase one of the overall division. Phase two involves a social enterprise development centre, which will have food and craft production businesses. The third phase, starting next year, will see a permanent home for Christmas Cheer, as well as an appliance and electronic space for refurbishing and recycling donated items. This will help to augment food baskets that people can receive if they volunteer and earn credits for that.
Harvest Algoma will be used as a go-between for providers, producers and people who need additional food, supplying food to emergency food providers, such as food banks and soup kitchens, but also to not-for-profit agencies that need food for their clients, such as Women in Crisis, Phoenix Rising, etc.
“And then, incorporated, there will be opportunities for people to volunteer and acquire skills, whether those skills are in cooking or preserving, gardening, electronic or appliance repair – a wide variety of skills that people who want to develop some skills to improve their chances of gaining a job,” Delfre said. “So the bottom line for everything that we do fits in a poverty reduction strategy, and that’s what this is all about, trying to reduce poverty in Sault Ste. Marie. Our focus is primarily hunger.”
The idea for Harvest Algoma came from a conversation Delfre had with local business owner, Jeff Avery, from Avery Construction.
“After speaking with Jeff (about) the idea of putting a home for Christmas Cheer together with this food resource centre, as well as a social enterprise and manufacturing food and craft products, I made that proposal to United Way last fall and worked on it, researched it a bit and developed the concept to try to determine would it be feasible and would it meet the needs in the community, would it meet the food shortage needs, the food waste reduction,” Delfre explained. “One of our goals is to try and reduce the amount of food waste in the community by re-purposing food, rescuing food, as well as the skill training and job creation parts that are associated with food and gardening and manufacturing and so forth. So I guess I could say the overall concept was something that I came up with through conversations with business people, with the United Way, with Gary Vipond, the CEO. And as we discussed it, as we researched it, we came to an agreement that a concept like Harvest Algoma could work, and would satisfy the poverty reduction needs related to food security.”
Jessica Laidley, the food resource centre coordinator for United Way, said they have quite a few community partners on board with this project.
“When the funding was initially written and proposed for, United Way sought partners from the Rural Agri-Innovation Network – it’s partnered and supported by Rotary, – Social Services Administration Board, a number of community farmers,” she explained. “There’s already a lot of folks in the agricultural sector that are donating food, so this was something of a natural fit for them. We’ve also got a number of agencies that are interested that already exist and work in food, so the food bank farm, we refer to them as a partner, Connect the Dots as well. So it’s kind of cross-sector. We’re bringing on Algoma U for a new strategy planning – more information will be available for that later – but we’re trying to reach outside of just the traditional sector for partners, because food security effects everyone.”
Delfre said this project is important because unlike most food security programs that only focus on receiving surplus and rescue food and distributing it, Harvest Algoma is more involved in farming, producing and processing food.
“We have a lot of farms in the Sault and district, so there’s a lot of food production. But they lack some facilities to process food and store food, and we have those facilities here now. We have large freezers and coolers, and a large kitchen and cooking capacity, so we can manufacture those products, those agricultural products, and sell them, export them and grow that sector, because that adds value to farm products that are produced,” he explained. “So previous to that, there wasn’t a facility in the Sault that farmers could go to to have food products that they produce processed, stored in the proper facilities, and we have that now. Even vendors in places like the Mill Market or other food vendors now have access to a commercial size cooking facility, where they can produce bigger amounts of product then they can compared to what they can produce in their oven at home. So all of it is designed to try and increase the size of the agricultural sector, the food sector, and in the process reducing food security, and ultimately reducing poverty.”
Delfre said he thinks it’s important that the community understands the changes the United Way is going through – it has changed its mandate from an agency that collects funds for other agencies that provide services, to now being a community impact agency.
“It’s a new day as far as the United Way is concerned, in Sault Ste. Marie, as a community impact agency, I think people will start to see very soon that the focus the United Way has taken now, is going to result in people having healthier food, more food, and more opportunities to participate in improving the quality of their life and their ability to participate in the community. And all of that is a way to reduce poverty and help make the community a healthier community that everybody wants. So, really, it’s important to understand that things have changed as far as United Way is concerned, and I hope people will just take a little bit of time either to think about that and think about supporting the United Way, because without that support, we will struggle to be successful here and we’re determined to be successful. So we hope the community jumps on board when they see the value and the benefit of everything that we’re doing,” he said.
“The message is, to people in Sault Ste. Marie, we have a new kind of paradigm regarding hunger in the community, we’re going to reduce hunger, we’re going to reduce poverty as a result, and we’re going to increase people’s opportunities to get skills and to become involved in the community, through programming and through volunteering, and through small business creation – a number of ways. So either contact us, contact the United Way, or just drop in here at the Harvest Algoma Food Resource Centre, which most people know as the Croatian Hall on Second Line, and it’ll probably be known as that for some time. If you’re interested in knowing more, if you have surplus food from your garden, which this time of year many people do, especially if you grow things like tomatoes or zucchini, we’d be very happy to take it, and we can assure you that it’ll go to a very good cause, particularly to children and seniors, who are the most vulnerable groups as far as hunger goes.”
The grand opening for Harvest Algoma will take place at the end of August or early September.
To become involved, you can reach Mike or Jessica at 705-253-0273. Volunteer opportunities can also be found at www.volunteerssm.ca