The Shelbourne Community Kitchen has witnessed phenomenal growth in its 18 months of operation. But the program’s success can present challenges of its own.
The kitchen serves as a one-stop shop for its participants. Instead of the traditional food hamper, participants are invited to browse the pantry – selecting one item from one shelf, two from another, not forgetting to take a selection of produce from the fridge, much of it grown on site.
“I think our pantry program really champions dignity, choice and respect. People get to pick their own food, they’re not being supervised. And then the fresh produce coming in from our garden programs as well as gardeners in the area – it’s just a great little system,” said program co-ordinator Kim Cummins.
“It’s an opportunity to do some meal planning and choose the foods you’d like to take home and avoid the foods that you can’t eat. And for us it saves quite a lot of labour in doing pre-packed hampers, so it’s a mutual benefit.”
The kitchen serves more than 260 participants, with about half coming in to pick up an assortment of food each month.
“They identify what week they’re going to come in the month before. We don’t take appointments but we do need to somehow manage the flow of traffic.” said board chair Laura Cochrane, noting the kitchen at 3541 Shelbourne St. is located in a residential neighbourhood.
“It also allows us to prepare for how many people are coming that week. We also have a small food voucher that we give to people.They walk out with a bag of groceries and their food voucher.”
The voucher is worth $10 at Fairway Market. “It used to be more but we’re growing. We have a set amount every month that we can spend on food vouchers,” said Cochrane.
The declining voucher amount and sparse selection on some pantry shelves has the Shelbourne Community Kitchen Society issuing a public appeal.
“During the summer months lots of people are away and there’s lots more going on. We usually have a bit of stores, but that’s really been depleted,” said Cochrane.
The society is requesting donations of canned meats (tuna, salmon, chicken, etc.), pasta and pasta sauce, canned fruits and vegetables, and canned soups and vegetables. The donations of unopened, non-perishable foods can be made until Sept 30 at the Van City location at 100-1590 Cedar Hill Cross Rd., Scotiabank at Shelbourne Plaza, 3609 Shelbourne St., and the Lutheran Church of the Cross at 3787 Cedar Hill Rd., during office hours Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“A lot of people say that we didn’t really recognize that poverty and food insecurity is an issue in Saanich, but it is growing,” said Cummins. “I’ve found with our volunteers and other people in the community, once they start thinking about what poverty looks like in Saanich, suddenly they already know people picking up bottles or hanging out in the parks. It’s not just a downtown issue, it’s a whole CRD issue.”
The Shelbourne Community Kitchen grew out of discussions originating in early 2012 in response to poverty-related food insecurity, finally taking shape with the kitchen’s opening in March 2015.
“We realized we wanted to do something more than the traditional food bank model. We wanted to provide a place where people could come and build community around food – where they could share the skills that they have and learn new food skills,” said Cochrane.
The results were almost immediate, with the numbers of participants and volunteers quadrupling in the first year. And there’s a close connection between the program participants and the 100 or so volunteers who help out on any given month.
“Almost half of our active volunteers are program participants, and that is part of the model we designed that we hoped would happen. That’s the community aspect,” said Cochrane. “People who come here and need programs we provide become part of the community that they contribute to. They hear about volunteer opportunities and they want to become involved.”
Many of the volunteers tend to the gardens, located in the yard behind the community kitchen as well as at a separate location.
As well as providing food for program participants, the gardens serve to improve the food literacy of volunteers and participants alike. In the garden you can find items like tomatoes, salad greens, cucumbers, zucchinis, arugula and an assortment of different herbs.
“For the most part we try and grow things that would be preventative cost-wise to purchase. We try and stay away from carrots and potatoes because we can buy them for cheaper than we can grow them,” said Cummins.
Anyone interested in volunteering at the kitchen or participating in its program can drop by the kitchen at 3541 Shelbourne St. during office hours, Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“They can just come here and access the pantry on their first time. But if they’re going to access it again, they have to become a member,” said Cochrane, adding the registration form and code of conduct agreement can be taken home or filled out on site.
You can also contact the kitchen at 250-590-0980 or visit the website at www.shelbournecommunitykitchen.ca.