An Alternative to Food Banks

20 Oct

It’s a big week for Nick Saul.

The founder of Toronto’s groundbreaking Stop Community Food Centre–now President and CEO of eight Community Food Centres across Canada–is in the running for a Taste Canada food writing award. Winners are announced today, Monday October 20. The food-justice warrior co-wrote The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement with his wife, Andrea Curtis. It details the work of his team at The Stop, creating an alternative in Toronto to the food bank–a community centre where people living on lower incomes can grow, cook and eat nutritious, culturally diverse and delicious food together, as well as joining forces to tackle food insecurity through activism.

And on Wednesday October 22, restaurants across Canada are joining forces to raise funds for Community Food Centres–there are eight now in four different provinces–in an event called Restaurants for Change. To be a part of it, all you need to do is book a table at one of the 25 participating restaurants and go out for dinner with family or friends. All proceeds from that evening’s service will go directly to Community Food Centres Canada to support programs across the country that address issues of hunger, poor health and social isolation in low-income communities.

Here Nick talks about his work and the upcoming fundraiser.


Chef Rob Gentile and Nick Saul

Chef Rob Gentile and Nick Saul


What is a Community Food Centre?
A welcoming, dignified space that provides multi-dimensional programs in the areas of food access (community meals, healthy food banks, affordable produce markets); food skills (community kitchens and gardens, after-school programs); and community engagement and support (peer advocacy, community action, public education).

The model was developed at The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, and there are now eight established or developing Community Food Centres across Canada: The Stop and the Regent Park Community Food Centre in Toronto, The Local CFC in Stratford, The Table CFC in Perth, the NorWest Co-op CFC in Winnipeg, the Dartmouth North CFC in Dartmouth, and two more CFCs in early stages in Moncton and Calgary.

You worked on developing these programs at The Stop for several years before taking the model to other Canadian towns and cities. What’s been most surprising about developing these new centres?
I’d say the length of time and the amount of work it takes to develop strong and trusting relationships with our partner CFC sites. The relationships we form with our local partners are quite high-touch–we work together on everything from floor plans to program, evaluation and fundraising plans. It’s a lot to think about, but we’ve seen that it’s those intensive partnerships that result in the most stable, well-resourced and locally supported centres.

The other thing that’s been, well, not surprising, but more exciting, is the level of interest in and engagement with our work. Across the country, organizations and individuals are increasingly seeing the potential good food has to be a transformative force in low-income communities. We’re committed to working with these folks–farmers and chefs and environmentalists and backyard gardeners and health professionals and home cooks and teachers along with, of course, low-income residents themselves–to bring substantive, positive change to more and more communities.

The Stop

Do you think this is a model that could work internationally?
Sure, why not! We’re not in a position to work outside of Canada yet, but we’ve definitely had interest from communities in the U.S. and England, and even in New Zealand and Kenya, wondering how they might take the model and apply it in their contexts. Time will tell how our story unfolds.

What would you like to see change in the way Canadian political leaders address hunger and food insecurity?
We’d like to see politicians and decision-makers connect the dots between the issues–between poor health and low income, for example–and start looking at policies and solutions that work to get at these problems upstream, instead of just slapping a Band-aid on the problem and calling it fixed. We’d save ourselves a lot of money in the long run and create greater equity and well-being in our country, if we invested in more prevention-based solutions to poverty, food insecurity, and poor health.

Do you have any other new initiatives coming up?
We’ve just launched an initiative called Good Food Organizations, which provides resources, small group training, grants, and networking and exchange opportunities to community food security organizations across Canada who offer and/or want to expand the quality and quantity of healthy and dignified food programs in their communities. Through it, we hope to mobilize organizations around a set of shared Good Food Principles and to work together towards a healthy and fair food system.

Women gardening

Tell us more about your upcoming Restaurants for Change event.
On October 22, 25 restaurants in nine cities across Canada are joining together to donate part or all of the proceeds from their dinner service to support Community Food Centres Canada and Community Food Centres across the country to bring people in low-income communities together to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food for all. We feel really lucky to have some amazing restaurants joining us in this first year who are committed to working with us and people across the country to build a movement calling for a healthy and fair food system. All people have to do to participate is go to to find a participating restaurant near them, and then make a reservation and go out to eat on October 22!

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Interested in learning more about Nick’s story and his community-building and food activism work?

We have three copies of The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement to give away.


To win a copy, leave a comment below with your thoughts on food insecurity in Canada. Why do you think it is still a problem in our relatively wealthy country? Is this something that has touched you firsthand? What message do we need to send politicians? How can communities bring about positive change? What are the most pressing aspects of this crisis that need to be addressed?

Winners will be selected on 1 November 2014, using a random selection app.

Please use your full name and make sure your correct e-mail address is used, when submitting a comment (contact details are not disclosed to other blog visitors).

Good luck!

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UPDATE [November 1, 2014]

Congratulations to Vivian Ngai, Diana Davis and Kat Tancock, the three winners of this contest!

8 Responses to “An Alternative to Food Banks”

  1. Kat October 20th, 2014 at 1:09 PM #

    Great post, Val! I think it’s a shame that so many Canadians are unaware not only of the true costs of food, but of the extreme lobbying and subsidies that occur at the national level and, even if they started off for a good reason, now work simply to keep big producers and organizations going at the expense of smaller, more sustainable businesses. I’d love to see some way of making sure all Canadians have affordable access to basic nutritious food staples – whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables to start with – that’s considered a key part of our health care system. I also think it’s important that food and cooking education return to schools as a requisite part of children’s education, so that all Canadian kids graduate with an understanding of how to plan meals, work within a food budget and prepare nutritious foods from scratch.

  2. Aube Giroux October 20th, 2014 at 6:36 PM #

    Fabulous post Val, The Stop does such amazing work!!

  3. Alison Kent October 21st, 2014 at 1:31 PM #

    Lots of great info here, Val — love The Stop!

  4. signe langford October 21st, 2014 at 6:46 PM #

    Great post on a great place!Nick won for his book last night at the Taste Canada Book Awards! Things are getting better in the world of local and sustainable eating! Now, let’s legalize backyard hens, OK? Nick? Can you help with that?

  5. Vivian Ngai October 26th, 2014 at 11:34 AM #

    Why do you think it is still a problem in our relatively wealthy country? Is this something that has touched you firsthand? What message do we need to send politicians? How can communities bring about positive change? What are the most pressing aspects of this crisis that need to be addressed?

    Food insecurity and issues of food justice are big issues in Canadian society. One of the issues is good food is not as accessible to those who need it the most. Growing percentages of the population, a large portion of which are children are having to rely on the food bank. The current food system needs to be worked on, to work with communities directly, as well as small farmers and good businesses to make nutritious and dignified food accessible to everyone. There are great food organizations around, but many struggle because of a lack of funding that is given and therefore their services and what they can offer suffers. We really need to see the value of food security – it’s a basic right – but it’s also something that ultimately affects the health of the country/world.

  6. Diane Davis October 26th, 2014 at 2:12 PM #

    There are so many elements contributing to the need for subsitized food in some means. Nutrition is not often considered by generous people who would like to donate something. Lack of facilities for fresh food donations in Gander mean the same dry and canned staples. Milk at double the price per litre than Pepsi in Newfoundland is ridiculous too. Great to see different initiatives tried and to see them succeed.

  7. Nadia T October 26th, 2014 at 3:35 PM #

    Great post, Val! (as always : )

    As the cost of living continues to balloon in our cities, it is inspiring to find an organization like The Stop working to engage the local as well as political communities to help not just alleviate hunger but to end it.

  8. Laureen Fox October 28th, 2014 at 2:15 PM #

    I love to support local initiatives that encourage fresh nutritious food for the poverty stricken in our communities. I would be very much interested in reading Nick and Andrea’s book.

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