Meet the Parkdale Food Centre
Our permanent TASTE Season charity partner
For many years, Wellington West BIA has been a proud to partner with Hintonburg’s own Parkdale Food Centre (PFC) on all kinds of joint projects. And in particular, every fall, we put the PFC right at the centre of our annual TASTE of Wellington West food festival as our permanent charity partner.
To us, it only makes sense for Ottawa’s most creative culinary district to support one of Canada’s most passionate, innovative food-security organizations as they carry out their mission to provide barrier-free access to delicious, nutritious food for all our neighbours.
And there’s more exciting news coming from the PFC! We recently spoke with Meredith Kerr, Communications & Donor Relations Manager at the Parkdale Food Centre to tell us more about what they have been working on. Here’s a bit of what she told us!
Q: Tell us about the work of the Parkdale Food Centre
The Parkdale Food Center is a “good food community hub“. We address food security in a different way. We believe that the right to food is a human right. Parkdale Food Centre offers barrier-free access to food; our programs address food insecurity directly through the power of good food and community. And so we have a number of programs that help access food, but also create community around food with food being the pinnacle piece.
Our food bank is essentially all nutritious, wholesome food available, not your Corn Pops and Beeferoni. We also believe in a choice model so that people have agency and dignity when they come through our doors and are able to choose what’s best for their bodies and according to their cultural needs, as well. So that’s something that’s a little bit different. And it’s starting to change within the landscape in Ottawa, but it was relatively new when we started to do it.
A number of youth programs. We are in schools speaking to youth about their communities – how to be better citizens, how to be better neighbours. We teach food literacy and knife chopping skills, all of the things combined.
Thirteen, a program for under-served youth, most of whom are new Canadians. Essentially they gain employment skills, entrepreneurial skills, and they sell spices from their native countries. Those spices are very, very well loved in our community. You can find them at a lot of the stores like Thyme and Again, Marché, and Herb and Spice. So we have some really good food partners in our community.
Cooking for a Cause. Born out of COVID, it’s a partnership with local restaurants that formed after everything closed down in March of 2020, and all the restaurants, agencies, and meal programs were closed. And so Karen Secord, our brilliant executive director who is risky and bold, said, ‘Well, this is crazy. That can’t happen.’ So she started this program and went to food spaces that were closed and said, ‘I’ll pay you for meals, we’ll rescue some of the food, anything more that you need for ingredients to make meals we will provide.’ Now this program creates 5000 meals a week.
What do you love about Wellington West?
Best community ever! Our community is engaged. We have small businesses that are a pillar of our community and support us. I can’t think of a lot of communities in Ottawa where small businesses are such a part of what we do. Those are the people that come to us with support, they lend their social media skills, they send their people over, they lend us their vans when necessary.
We really love that Wellington West is a space where everyone is welcome. It feels as though everybody is different but everybody is together. That is very aligned with our mission at Parkdale Food Centre, that everybody is a community – neighbour-to-neighbour. I think that’s what we love so much about being in a space where you can go to breakfast at The Third, and you can sit beside a lawyer on one side and a guy that’s living in a rooming house, and everybody’s having an awesome time!
Who are some local heroes in the community?
Our Executive Director Karen Secord is our raison d’etre. She is our person; she’s our leader; she is fearless. And in this landscape, she thinks of these wild things. She has a passionate bunch of staff that are able to follow through. And so her imagined and reimagined projects become realities, which I think is pretty amazing.
We also have an amazing bunch of frontline workers that have worked through these last two years fearlessly. These people, during the deep dredges when we were all working from home, they were out sharing food with people and good food, and making sure that the way that we give it to people is still beautiful, and kind and thoughtful. I would say they’re pretty big heroes in my life.
What are you working on and how can the community support your efforts?
We’re so proud of our community fridge that the Hintonburg Community Association bought for us. It’s shown us that we’ve got this great community that wants to be a part of a lot of our work. Goldenrod Community Garden in Wellington West has been contributing all kinds of the farm shares that are part of this community and also a lot of restaurants and a lot of grocery stores have also been donating to that fridge. It’s a project. People are hungry and need access to it often. So we’re filling it all the time.
We have Meal Programs on Wednesdays and Fridays. Pre-COVID it was sort of a ritual at Parkdale, that everybody on Fridays is a part of. Neighbours, volunteers, donors, community members, community police officers would come, you’d see your MPP there sometimes, everybody was welcome, no invitation necessary. The idea was that the cooking workshop would happen first, everybody had to participate in setting and linening tables and you had to sit down to eat your lunch. So it creates this really great community around food again, and you sit beside somebody that might be a little bit different than you but they’re part of your community and you’d love to share with them. So obviously, this was a big miss during COVID.
So we’ve pivoted and Chef Simon Bell does a takeaway meal for about 150 meals on Fridays. And then that is followed by a beautiful, fresh, free produce market. We’ve also paired up with a local business called City Love Flowers, so Kate also delivers flowers as part of the market to the community.
On Wednesdays, we have coffee and conversations underneath the ‘big top’, as we call it, at 30 Rosemount, which is a big tent we put out in order to keep our programs alive. And under that big top is our community fridge. On Wednesday mornings, we have breakfast, people can have coffee, and then at 10 o’clock, we do Chair Yoga so anybody in the community who would like to be a part of that can come. We are just really trying to engage our people living in isolation. And we’re really trying to continue to allow that touch point for health through food, but also engage in community and belonging through food.