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Dignified and Delicious: How the Parkdale Food Centre Makes Change with Food and Community Care

Learn more about the TASTE of Wellington West permanent charity partner and how your support makes Ottawa a better city through putting food on the table

From left to right: Heather Austin-Skaret – Mann Lawyers, Dennis Van Staalduinen – WWBIA Executive Director, André Martin – Mann Lawyers and Karen Secord – Parkdale Food Centre Executive Director. Photo by Ayesh Kanani. 

Founded in Hintonburg at the old Parkdale Avenue fire station, the Parkdale Food Centre is a registered, not-for-profit charity committed to providing neighbours with accessible, nutritious food. Staffed by a small, powerful team and a dedicated network of volunteers, the Parkdale Food Centre observes the right to food as the basis to building positive physical, mental and emotional health on both an individual and community-wide level.

“We believe that everyone deserves a means and opportunity to thrive,” says Karen Secord, the Parkdale Food Centre’s Executive Director.

Karen Secord – Parkdale Food Centre Executive Director

The Parkdale Food Centre operates differently than a typical food bank, utilizing funding from donors and grants, rather than exclusively government support, to maintain a commercial kitchen in the heart of Hintonburg and feed residents from across the city. They do so through innovative initiatives including the Mino’Weesini grocery program, the Fresh Eats no-cost produce market, the take what you need, leave what you can Community Fridge & Pantry and the Cooking for a Cause Ottawa program. Cooking for a Cause saw local restaurants prepare wholesome meals for community members in need throughout the pandemic, including Wellington West’s own Bread By Us, Happy Goat Coffee, Ottawa Bagel Shop & Deli and the Wellington Gastropub.

Alongside their food-centric undertakings, the Parkdale Food Centre operates a youth entrepreneurial program, Thirteen: A Social Enterprise, as well as workshops to empower and equip youth to tackle complex social issues, like food security. As Secord points out, “giving children in grades as young as three and four hands-on activities and ways to engage in social justice has a long-term impact.”

Indeed, the Parkdale Food Centre is about more than just food; it’s about connection. “We’ve moved towards prioritizing community engagement rather than following a traditional charity format. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you open your doors, don’t ask questions, and just be a welcoming space.”

“We serve human beings and create a sense of community in dignified and delicious ways,” adds Secord. “But the financial burden to feed neighbours continues to be on us, even when we see lineups around the block starting first thing in the morning.”

On top of the duress of the pandemic, the climate of inflation and the rapid cost of living in Ottawa obstruct the Parkdale Food Centre from driving a mission that diverts from the unsustainable food bank model. While a food bank may provide an individual with three to five days’ worth of emergency food, which often includes processed, non-perishable items on a limited basis, the Parkdale Food Centre serves appropriate, healthy and homemade meals.  

“We’re meeting the social determinants of health and the obligations of government and public health officials who have abdicated their responsibilities to the right to food. And so, we’re meeting those obligations for them,” asserts Secord.

The partnership between the Parkdale Food Centre and Wellington West Business Improvement area member merchants ignites conversation on food security on a community-wide level every year throughout TASTE season. Attending the festival on Saturday, September 24 celebrates the creative, culinary excellence of Hintonburg and Wellington Village, while equally supporting the Parkdale Food Centre improving the city’s quality of life. At this year’s TASTE of Wellington West festival, come to taste and come to give, as we aim to raise $10,000 for this irreplaceable community resource from now until October 31, 2022.

Thank you to the 2022 TASTE sponsors:

Mann Lawyers, GT Express, Sutton, Domicile, the Wellington West Retirement Community, Edible Ottawa, Physiocare, Ottawa Bagel Shop and Deli, The Cat’s Meow Hair, Sharpfle Waffle and Urban Art Collective!