Community Meal Program
Several of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) buildings in southwest Scarborough are located in a “food desert”. There are no grocery stores within easy reach, nor are there any food-banks in the immediate area. So even shopping for basic foodstuffs is a major challenge for tenants who are already living in poverty. This lack of access to food becomes even worse towards the end of the month when many tenants run out of money. It can even be life-threatening. So when a nutritious $1 community breakfast was offered by the tenants’ Social Club at 682 Warden Ave. beginning in 2002, there was an immediate uptake. This has continued ever since and 20-25 breakfasts are served every day now under the auspices of the MIND Program. In 2011 a $1 Sunday community dinner was added and in 2013 this was expanded to three community dinners per week. The small kitchen in the common recreation area only allows for the preparation of 40 meals at a time. The 40 dinners are ready by 3pm and are quickly sold out. On the other days of the week a simple burgers-and-fries meal is offered.
In April 2018 the MIND Program obtained funding from the United Way of Greater Toronto to expand this community meal program. This enabled us to hire two half-time community meal program coordinators to lead the cooking, shopping, financial management, recruitment and training of volunteers to work with them in a larger meal program. We continued the 7-day a week breakfast and dinner program at 682 Warden Ave. Then we started preparing 20 dinners twice a week for delivery to TCHC buildings at 40 Firvalley Court and 10 Glen Everest Ave. Now in November 2018 we have opened the kitchen at 40 Firvalley Court and are offering a low-cost breakfast on-site there 6 days a week. The next step will be to provide an increasing number of dinners cooked and served on-site at 40 Firvalley Court.
The community meals that MIND offers are available to everyone in the buildings. Tenants are served in the buildings’ recreation room which is an open, physically accessible, and visible space on the ground floor by the main entrance. We have found that it is very important to provide community meals on-site at low cost in order to be easily accessed by tenants. The volunteer cooks and servers reflect the diversity of the population in the building. The meals are simple, nutritious, and the food is familiar and commonly eaten by this population. We do charge $1 for the breakfast sandwich and $1.50 for the three-course dinners. This small charge, and revenue from the sale of snack foods, cover all the cost of the meal ingredients. So the program has covered its own food costs to date. This has helped ensure its continuity, and this continuity is important to tenants who need the program. The charge is low enough that even those on the lowest incomes in the buildings can afford it. For tenants who have difficulty budgeting for the month between social assistance cheques, the MIND Program does help them schedule payments for the meals in advance or in arrears so that this potential barrier is minimized.
In addition to the daily and weekly meals, MIND offers free community meals several times a year for up to 150 tenants, usually around major Canadian holidays like Christmas, Canada Day, etc. and these are fully accessible to everyone in the buildings.
8 — 10am Breakfast
3 — 4pm Dinner
682 Warden Avenue
40 Firvalley Court
10 Glen Everest Ave