If there’s an immediate positive to the Mustard Seed’s monthly food hamper delivery program, it’s the ease of access it affords the tenants of the Cool Aid Society and other affordable housing providers in the region, says Ed O’Brien, an employee at Cool Aid’s Olympic Vista building in Saanich.
“There were fairly big lineups at the food bank, including [Cool Aid tenants] who have paranoia, schizophrenic, addictions, or other issues, and to have all those people in a lineup wasn’t always easy, this provides a very good service, it’s worked out really well,” O’Brien said. “In hindsight, you almost wonder why we didn’t do it before.”
The conversation of housing first is at crucial point where it includes food, the other word in the staple expression “food and shelter.”
Cool Aid started it with 10 people and expanded it to 114, benefiting seniors with mobility issues, disabilities and other issues.
It was thanks to the Mustard Seed Food Bank’s progressive approach that the food hamper option became available, said Cool Aid’s Downtown Community Association co-ordinator Donna McKenna.
“When Mustard Seed started the hamper program, Cool Aid pulled up the postal codes of its participants and noticed people from places such as Tillicum would pick up their child, use transit to get downtown, pick up the hamper, and then return by transit to their home community,” McKenna said.
Currently, 19 of the 32 tenants in Olympic Vista on Carey Road receive the food hamper while additional tenants at the new Cottage Grove building (Quadra and Tolmie) will also qualify. Cottage Grove is slowly filling up to its 45-person capacity.
In addition to the food hamper deliveries (which come in bags), the DTC has added cooking classes and a food literacy approach. Classes instruct tenants on what to make from the ingredients within the hamper.
“Food equals mood is a saying here,” McKenna said. “‘Housing first’ is our number one [goal], but we also look at the needs of the people, the food and nutritional needs, and try to serve those as well.”
The idea with food literacy is to close the loop, McKenna added.
“You can think if someone has been incarcerated or hospitalized for a long period, they haven’t made a meal or budgeted for meals in a long time.”
Fresh produce is also on the way for the food hamper program as the Food Rescue Program through Thrifty Foods and the Mustard Seed goes online later in March.