Sarah Kim (she, her) is a first generation Canadian-born woman whose parents immigrated from South Korea. She is the Food Networks Coordinator for Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (VNFN)—the umbrella network of food networks across the city of Vancouver.
Having food networks spread across the city allows for decentralized food security development in local neighbourhoods. Every network is agile and adaptable, based on the changing needs and demographics of their communities. Each network is also unique in their programming, leadership and structure.
Coordinating across neighbourhoods during the pandemic
The Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinators have been meeting more frequently since the pandemic started back in March. Normally, coordinators would meet once every two months in person. Since the pandemic started, they were meeting online every two weeks. For Sarah, this has meant facilitating more group conversations and even meetings with the organizations’ stakeholders.
Sarah has also been coordinating large-scale donations amongst the food networks. This can be a lot of work, remembering who is operating when and available to receive on any day of the week, who has transportation to pick up, and so on. Fortunately, Sarah has strong skills when it comes to managing logistical details.
Building relationships and advocating for food and income security
Relationships are incredibly important to Sarah, in her work with VNFN and beyond. Building trust and authentic relationships is key to her community development approach in Vancouver neighbourhoods. These efforts take time and energy, and are instrumental to how the group operates as food networks.
“The Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinators have been unseen champions in our city throughout the pandemic,” says Sarah.
“They have been working tirelessly to ensure their neighbours are engaged and have the nutrition they need. Their passion and dedication are unrelenting. The coordinators, their colleagues and teams of volunteers have been lifting this city up and I want to acknowledge this and their work. I am honored to know and work with all of them.”
Advocacy is equally important to Sarah in her work with VNFN. She is currently advocating for: VNFN to receive increased funding supports from the City of Vancouver; livable basic incomes for all (since food insecurity is a substantial result of inadequate incomes), and; for people in general to understand the challenges their neighbours may be facing when it comes to food security.
Needs and goals for strengthening food security in Vancouver
The Neighbourhood Food Networks are continuing to address community needs that existed before the pandemic—and are even more persistent during COVID. The Coordinators have been creating opportunities for community members to come together to learn, celebrate, advocate and be with one another. VNFN knows that social isolation—and not having social supports and connections—is an issue many Vancouverites face.
“Many VNFN activities foster relationship-building amongst neighbours through engagement with food, and we have seen these relationships flourish!” says Sarah. “Together, we are pondering questions like: ‘How can we continue to build and bring community together while we are apart?’”
Sarah and the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinators are continuing to explore ideas to respond to these growing needs. Sarah and the VNFN Coordinators invite you to stay tuned for updates.
Hastings Sunrise Community Food Network (HSCFN) started nine years ago with greenhouse tomatoes from Gipanda farms. Farm Folk City Folk received some grants for a food security initiative, and approached organizations in Hastings-Sunrise to collaborate. Before long, there were more fresh vegetables from Van Whole produce, and the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House van helped deliver produce on Tuesdays. A food security family was started in the neighbourhood, and over the years it has grown and expanded.
HSCFN is a collective of five social services organizations in Northeast Vancouver, this Network includes Kiwassa Neighbourhood House, Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, CityReach Care Society, Thunderbird Community Centre, and Seasons of Food Vancouver at the Hastings Community Centre.
Blain Butyniec (he, him), who has worked as Kiwassa’s Food Programs Coordinator for the past 4.5 years and Eva Aboud (she, her) who has worked at Frog Hollow as a Food Security and Outreach Coordinator for 15 years, have been co-coordinators for the Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network (HSCFN) for 1.5 years. Their colleague Sharon Dong (she, her) from CityReach Care Society was born and raised in East Vancouver, and has been with CityReach since COVID as the Director for Food for Families. Food rescue from Van Whole produce is one of the pieces at the centre of collaboration between these three agencies
At the moment, Thunderbird Community Centre and Seasons of Food Vancouver aren’t able to operate due to limitations during COVID, but the collaboration and relationships all five organizations have built together contribute to the overall resilience of this Network. While many Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks are hosted by one neighbourhood house, a key benefit of HSCFN is the ability to share ideas across several organizations and respond quickly to unique community needs. Eva notes that the families in Hastings-Sunrise are also very resourceful.
At work with the Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network
Before COVID-19, the Network focused collectively on gardening, including workshops about urban farming, cooking and nutrition.There were community meals and food markets in place, as well as food recovery and distribution efforts. An emphasis on food justice advocacy, Indigenous land sovereignty, and dignified access to food are hallmarks of the Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network.
Kiwassa Neighbourhood House
Kiwassa Neighbourhood House’s food program provides dignified access to food while building a more food secure community. Before COVID, they were offering diverse community kitchens, gardening and cooking workshops, and partnering with other organizations to redistribute food. The Kiwassa kitchen also provided free and low-cost, nutritious meals, with opportunities for students and volunteers to engage with others while learning or sharing skills. In addition, the Kiwassa kitchen continued providing meals and snacks for children’s summer camps, and caters for the daycare program this fall.
Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House
Eva shares that she mailed seeds out to the families in her programs, and emailed them with the steps to encourage everyone to try growing food. Many families followed up with photos of their thriving gardens!
“I feel very passionate about my work and as a facilitator of positive change I feel it’s my purpose and lifelong journey to help create positive change in guiding others to lead themselves to a sustainable life of empowerment and visions of a healthy future,” says Eva.
“As a parent in a low-income family, and then a single mom raising two daughters, I know what it’s like to try to put the best food on the table to raise a healthy family on very little money. The more I learn about how to be self-sufficient the more I want to help others to be self-sufficient so they attain the tools and resources to live a healthier life for them and their children with proudness and confidence.”
CityReach Care Society
CityReach Care Society is a community-based organization that is focused on families as well as the environment. One of the key programs is Food for Families (FFF) which is a free, nutritious food bank for low-income households serving fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein. Since COVID, FFF has grown from 100 to 800 hampers per week . In addition, the program has adapted to support guests better—from COVID compliance to daily Meals to Go, and delivery of hampers to vulnerable individuals. In addition to diverting good food from landfills and reducing carbon emissions, CityReach is keeping Bees which are essential to urban food production.
From Food Hubs to home deliveries
As the pandemic began affecting communities, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank ceased its distributed Food Hub services—which hosted at many locations in neighbourhoods throughout the city—limiting safe and dignified access to food for neighbours.
Kiwassa began delivering food hampers to folks in need. It quickly grew from one to three days, serving 200 households weekly from the West End of Vancouver, all the way out to Port Coquitlam and South Vancouver, and up to the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood in Northeast Vancouver.
At this time, there are 90 households receiving food hampers from Kiwassa, including those who used to attend the community Food Hub supported by the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, as well as participants involved in Kiwassa’s programs, and neighbours who heard about the service through word of mouth. Similarly, Saige Community Food Bank, an organization that ran twice monthly no barrier food banks providing food for trans, Two Spirit, gender diverse folks, as well as many others that may struggle in accessing regular food banks, also created a free home hamper delivery service. They also started holding online community kitchens, delivering the food items to participants the night before.
For both Kiwassa and Saige their food hamper delivery programs serve as a critical point of contact for many of the other programs at Kiwassa. Program coordinators took on food hamper delivery, which allowed them to safely make weekly visits to their program participants who would otherwise have been further isolated when community gathering places closed down. Since seniors faced the greatest risks to their health, while also being housebound, Kiwassa’s food program collaborates closely with the seniors program.
Together, they publish a newsletter for all hamper recipients, including recipe ideas for that week’s hamper contents, additional resources available in the community, online workshops, activities like colouring and mindfulness exercises, as well as neighbourhood walks. They also include articles about homelessness, Indigenous solidarity, and resisting anti-Black and anti-Asian racism. They have also been able to distribute donated books from the library and art supplies to children and youth, as well as BINGO cards to seniors for the online games they started hosting.
What Neighbours are Saying
“Thank you soo much! I cannot tell you how much our members appreciate the grocery hampers. Our folks have been drastically impacted by COVID and access to food has been a lifesaver, so thank you.”
PACE Society (a CityReach partner)
“I am extremely grateful and appreciative. The salmon you included is truly a treat and not something I expected but very much appreciated.”
NM, a CityReach guest who receives a modified hamper suitable for her illness says
While local grassroots organizations have been delivering services to community members, there has been support from larger organizations linked to government funding. Eva says the volunteers she received from United Way are remarkable, and she is grateful for those volunteers who continue to help deliver emergency food to families each week.
The Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network seeks to build deeper collaboration amongst its partner agencies, and grow local active involvement in the Network. The food rescue project has been further developed during the pandemic. They have coordinated some bulk purchasing and redistribution of food among HSCFN agencies as well as partnering with Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network organizations. This initiative has provided the opportunity to collaborate a bit across networks, particularly through more-frequent interagency meetings, which has helped people doing this front-line labour to feel less isolated and support one another’s work.
Before COVID, the Network was planning community workshops across its five agencies that would be jointly presented and promoted. Some workshops would be repeated at each agency, while others would follow a theme customized for each location, to encourage some cross-pollination as people visit several locations in the neighbourhood.
Kiwassa is about to start running a weekly community food market, as part of the Community Food Centres Canada ‘Market Greens’ project. A big feature of this will be bringing affordable produce to neighbours, with an additional 40 families receiving further subsidies each year of the 2 year program. Starting September 29, the market runs Wednesdays from 2-5pm at Pandora Park. In partnership with Vines Art Festival who currently program the park’s field house, they aim to collaborate on a monthly market that will host more vendors and performances.
Kiwassa is working with REFARMERS to develop a new communal garden site in Hastings-Sunrise. Unlike community gardens where people have individual plots, communal gardens are collectively maintained, creating deeper opportunities for community-building.
Sharon mentions the Network will need resourcing, non-emergency food donations and volunteers to sustain them post-COVID. The focus should shift from emergency response to sustainability to support the community, because the inequitable impacts of COVID will be felt for years.
Learn more, contribute and celebrate community food action with Hastings-Sunrise Community Food Network:
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The Mount Pleasant Food Network (MPFN) is dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of all residents living in Mount Pleasant and nearby neighbourhoods by promoting an accessible, just and sustainable food system for our community. Administered by Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, this Network plays an important role in community development especially relating to food security and food justice issues.
The Mount Food Network has a focus on building value in the food justice movement and supporting the work of individuals and groups who are experts in this field. Over the past seven years, outgoing Network Coordinator and Indigenous community developer and planner Jolene Andrew (Git’xsan, Wit’suwet’in) has been an advisor on Indigenous food sovereignty issues.
Currently the network is seeking a new Network Coordinator (part-time) to continue Jolene’s wonderful work and bring new energy and ideas to the network. Please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Network’s activities typically include Indigenous land sovereignty advocacy and action through the Queen Alexandra Elementary School garden, and the Resurfacing History Project, hosted by Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House. The school garden has been part of the Indigenous Foodscapes project by FarmToSchool BC and the Vancouver School Board, and seed saving practices are taught for food system resiliency.
Before COVID, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House and the Food Network served weekly community meals and frequently hosted cooking and nutrition workshops for participants of all ages. Food recovery and distribution has been one of many supports offered to low-income participants.
Since COVID, many activities have shifted to an online format. The Food Network Coordinator participates in many groups and committees, with a COVID response lens from the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood view. This includes Climate Equity at the City of Vancouver and the Food Policy Council.
Some of the typical Neighbourhood House programming has shifted toward online cooking workshops, including a monthly youth cooking club using Zoom. While the Mount Pleasant Food Network typically gathers with many community organizations, the pandemic has prevented a gathering of the full network, but outdoor activities at the garden have continued.
Direct services have been shifted toward emergency food response, and supplying take-home meals and food boxes to seniors.
In the autumn of 2019, the Mount Pleasant Food Network was able to have some planning done to inform the future and ongoing work priorities, although these plans have been put on pause. The Food Network’s priorities are to work on communication to grow the network, and focus on collaboration and connecting across networks to support new and developing initiatives. They would also like to directly support some initiatives like starting new projects.
In order to build capacity across the Network, and to share the work and draw on additional resources, the Mount Pleasant Food Network is moving toward a cohesive and collaborative inter-agency approach to supporting its activities.
Learn more, contribute and celebrate community food action with Mount Pleasant Food Network:
This is the seventh in a series of blog posts featuring each of our Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.
Laura Gair (she, her, hers) has worked with South Vancouver Neighbourhood House for four years as the South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network Coordinator. Laura is a second generation Canadian visitor on these lands, with Scottish, German, English and Hungarian roots. She is a mother of one adorable toddler. Laura has lived in Vancouver since 2008, after moving from the farm belt in Southwestern Ontario where she learned from her grandmother to always have extra food ready for friends and visitors.
South Vancouver Food Network (SVFN) is an active collaboration of community members and organizations working to enhance health and wellbeing in three neighbourhoods through the power of good food. They support and coordinate local food security initiatives and offer healthy, dignified, community-based food programs. The Network aims to create a more sustainable and just food system in the city.
SVFN covers the largest footprint in the city, with boundaries encompassing the three neighbourhoods of Sunset, Victoria-Fraserview and Killarney. These neighbourhoods make up one-fifth of the land in the City of Vancouver, and are home to 100,000 people. South Vancouver is the most racialized area of Vancouver, with 80% of people identified visible minorities and 68.6% of people speaking first languages other than English (compared to 46% in Vancouver overall).
Despite representing such a large area of Vancouver, these neighbourhoods are underserved and underrepresented when it comes to community services. With such a large geographic area, each neighbourhood is unique and the communities experience different challenges. The Network’s neighbourhoods have a “commuter culture,” where community members have had to travel to other neighbourhoods to access programs and resources. SVFN works to change that by building more food assets to create stronger community and personal resilience, while also developing stronger social connections in each neighbourhood. Since the opening of Marpole Neighbourhood House inn 2019, they now partner with organizations in the Marpole-Oakridge area.
South Vancouver Food Network is known for its gardening and urban farming programs and workshops, as well as community meals, food distribution, and cooking and nutrition workshops.
Many pre-existing programs were put on hold to COVID-19 and the need for physical distancing. In place of regular programs, they began focusing on emergency food distribution in early March.
Emergency Food Distribution
South Vancouver Neighbourhood House established a temporary emergency food distribution program along with Marpole Neighbourhood House. This initiative replaced the Greater Vancouver Food Bank’s Food Hub model, which was cancelled around the onset of COVID-19. The emergency food distribution response met urgent needs for seniors and community members with compromised health who felt unsafe travelling beyond their neighbourhood to access other food supports.
Some of the Network’s emergency food response efforts have included:
• Safe Seniors, Strong Communities: Cooking frozen prepared meals for delivery to seniors who are isolating
• Cooking programs with seniors by phone, including guided cooking classes and recipe sharing through the South Vancouver Adult Day Program
• Grocery gift card distribution, and referring families for South Vancouver Neighbourhood House hamper deliveries and grocery gift cardsthrough Vancouver School Board, BC Housing, South Vancouver Family Place (SVFP) and Fresh Roots Urban Farm
• Distributing bagged meals to go, in place of indoor community meals at Faith Fellowship Baptist Church, St. Augustine’s Church and Ross Temple. St. Augustine’s Church will reopen and resume Greater Vancouver Food Bank distribution in September.
Growing Food Support
SVNH, SVFN and partner organizations are continuing food support efforts through the following programs:
•“Hi Neighbour” food hamper delivery for families, along with South Vancouver Family Place (SVFP) and Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS)
• “Safe Seniors Strong Communities” Hub Agency, which includes grocery and medication delivery, friendly phone calls, and delivering frozen prepared meals for seniors ages 65+
Virtual Community Kitchen in partnership with BC Housing
• The newcomer youth garden club grows produce on the Rooftop Community Garden
• Hosting Food for Families Mobile in the Killarney neighbourhood through CityReach Care Society
Gardening Together Safely
These garden and farm programs have been adapted for physical distancing and sanitizing:
•Farmers on 57th, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House & SVNH: Growing Eden Garden Program
• Sunset Community Garden and Fraserlands Community Garden
•Fresh Roots Urban Farm: Farming, youth programs and pop-up markets are all running with new protocols
Needs and Goals
The Network is also working to find long term solutions to replace the emergency food response program. They are making plans to increase the availability of community gardens and garden programs, as well as community meals and community kitchen programs in South Vancouver.
At Marpole Neighbourhood House, they are completing construction of a new garden, in order to begin gardenng programs, and continuing to grow the community lunch events.
The Growing Eden program is adding an online virtual gardening and cooking component to the project.
Fresh Roots Urban farm is continuing the SOYL program, as well as markets with new safety protocols.
Across the board, the South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network is working with community partners toward poverty reduction goals and advocating for the needs of our diverse community. A positive side effect from COVID-19 is that there is now attention being paid to the inequity in resource distribution across Vancouver. It is time for our neighbourhoods and the people who live in them to be heard.
Learn more, contribute, and celebrate community food action with South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network:
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts featuring each of our Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.
Khalid Jamal (he, him, his) has been the Food Network Coordinator for the Strathcona Community Centre Food Security Program for about a year. His own early memories of food inform his passion for feeding the neighbourhood.
The Strathcona Community Centre has been known as a place where the community can meet, share thoughts, explore new and different avenues of recreation, socialize and become involved. Being located in the midst of a unique, warm, and friendly multi-cultural community, the centre attempts to fulfill the many different needs. The centre is a resource which can be drawn upon by all groups and persons for information, ideas and resources.
Before COVID-19, its doors were always open to all those wishing to use it. The closure of Strathcona Community Centre during the pandemic led the Network to step up and provide emergency food response. Their weekly backpack program has adapted and expanded to become the Strathcona Emergency Food Hub, where food hampers are distributed each week.
Before the pandemic, this neighbourhood food Network engaged community members in gardening and urban farming, including workshops for community education and seed-saving as a tool for resilience by making well-adapted varieties of plants available for future gardening seasons. Community meals and workshops for nutrition and cooking were also popular activities for this neighbourhood food network, which participates in food recovery and distribution.
Khalid mentions that several of the residents living near the space they are distributing food from are really skilled gardeners. “As a group, they’re very diverse in language, culture, age, and physical ability, and they manage to have gardening as their meeting place,” Khalid says. “They connect to share garden tips, seedlings, and soil, intuitively supporting each other as neighbours. While food security, mental health and social isolation are challenges in Strathcona during the pandemic, this group seems to have found a way to cope.”
Needs and Goals
Khalid and his colleagues recognize community needs for social connection as being integral to food security work. Strathcona’s food programs aim to meet these needs by offering food skills programs, especially for children and seniors, land-based learning, and cultural programming.
The network’s future goals include more cultural programming, especially for Indigenous and newcomer communities, and stronger collaboration with neighbourhood partners.
Learn more, contribute, and celebrate community food action with Strathcona Community Centre Food Security Program:
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts featuring each of our Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.
Joey Sing Yiu Liu (she, her, hers) identifies as an immigrant settler born in Hong Kong, who has now lived on unceded Coast Salish homelands for 30 years. She has worked as the farmer and community programmer at Gordon Neighbourhood House for 3.5 years.
Gordon Neighbourhood House envisions a dynamic, diverse neighbourhood where everyone is empowered to play a role in their community. Their mission is moving together to build connection and opportunity in their neighbourhood—for today and tomorrow. As a Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network member organization, they provide dignified food access to West End residents and use food as a vehicle to bring people together.
Joey is proud of Gordon House’s commitment to meet people where they’re at and create opportunities for the community to lead and share their creative ideas. She also appreciates how their team and organization are committed to social justice issues and take opportunities to learn and grow with the community.
“Gordon House is often described as people’s second home, and that also reflects our welcoming and safe environment,” says Joey. “I’m biased but I think we do really amazing food work!”
Before March 2020, Gordon House grew fresh veggies through their Urban Farm program, that went back to the House’s kitchen and Community Lunch Program. Their approach to dignified food distribution included the West End Community Food Hub, food asset mapping, community lunches, food skills and gardening workshops , low-cost produce markets, and a Farmers Market coupon program. Twice a week, their resident Chef also taught Out of School Care kids how to make healthy snacks and practice proper knife skills. Food justice advocacy and advocating for Indigenous land sovereignty have also been central to the work of the Gordon House team.
Gordon House started doing programs and outreach online once COVID-19 began, which included cooking and delivering healthy frozen prepared meals to over 40 seniors in the West End.. Along with United Way’s Local Love Food Hubs, they worked to redistribute needed supplies to community members and partners.
Although folks couldn’t meet in person, Gordon House posted online cooking recipes and videos to help neighbours feel inspired and supported. In June, they adjusted and launched their urban farm program to focus on connection to land and nature-based learning, at a time when people were feeling increasingly isolated and looking for ways to spend time outside.
Food asset mapping also became a priority, and the House offered a one-time emergency food distribution to 150 Food Hub members before neighbourhood Food Hubs were centralized by the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. The Famers Market coupon program remained in effect, and Gordon House distributed $60,000 worth of grocery gift cards to neighbours. Throughout these past months, they have remained dedicated to sharing and developing West End food resources.
Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks
As one of many Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks (VNFN), Joey describes VNFN as “a supportive network where we can work collaboratively and respectfully around ideas and solutions that help each respective network and the local food system across Vancouver.”
“We often talk about how this collective should focus on work that we can’t do as an individual network, and during COVID we saw this more than ever when network coordinators worked closely together around emergency food distribution and other initiatives,” says Joey. “I’ve really appreciated the support and collaboration during COVID when everything was so overwhelming, and also VNFN Coordinator Sarah Kim’s amazing (and magic!) leadership where she funnelled so many resources and contacts between people.”
“Overall, I appreciate the work that we do around food justice and advocacy, especially when we use a holistic and intersectional approach, because this is how we will truly help change the food system,” says Joey. “It’s also really important to me that everyone who comes to the table is respectful and willing to learn and grow.”
What Neighbours are Saying
When Gordon House distributed packages of Farmers Market coupons and grocery card vouchers to some members, people mentioned how they felt like they were opening a Christmas package. They shared a lot of nice comments about their appreciation, as well as pictures about the produce they bought and meals they made using the vouchers.
One member in particular said: “This is the only light in my life right now and I sure appreciate it.”
Gordon House’s future goals include deepening their process for uplifting community voices and action, and helping to support community members to make things happen. They aim to provide more dignified emergency food access for the West End neighbourhood via stronger network and community partnerships—while relying less on the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. For Gordon House, deepening the organization’s actions and commitment to social justice issues is centred around decolonization, anti-racism and inclusivity, and these values will continue to inform the work they do.
Learn more, contribute, and celebrate community food action with Gordon Neighbourhood House
The DTES (Downtown Eastside) Neighbourhood House is a secular, grassroots, place-based organization. The House aims to provide leadership, social, recreational and educational opportunities for DTES residents of all ages to meaningfully engage with and contribute to their community in an equitable atmosphere. While understanding food to be an invaluable communicative instrument, the House uses food as a central component of community building.
Before COVID-19, the DTES Neighbourhood House Right to Food Network was engaged in a number of programs and initiatives, including: urban farming, gardening workshops, seed saving, cooking and nutrition workshops, food recovery and distribution, as well as community meals and food asset mapping with a focus on food justice advocacy.
Because of COVID-19, a number of the programs at the Neighbourhood House, such as the kids and family programming, as well as the nutritional outreach programming, have been put on hold. The Network is currently focusing on urban farming and bulk buying as part of its emergency food response efforts, and food asset mapping is more important than ever.
In lieu of the Family Drop-In program, the Neighbourhood House has been putting together food hampers with everyday necessities, including fruits and vegetables, for the families and seniors in the community. Families and seniors are able to come to the House to pick up the hampers once a week. The House has been able to deliver hampers to those who are unable to pick up the hampers on site.
The Community Drop-In program has also been adapted, and the team has transitioned to delivering the oatmeal breakfast and lunch through take-out, five days a week.
Challenges & Goals
There is an abundance of processed foods and food items high in refined sugars in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Community members often lack access to fresh foods that are nutritionally rich and diverse and those living in Single Room Occupancy housing (SRO’s) do not have the capacity to prepare their own meals. The House’s programming, which is centered around food security, isd driven by a food philosophy that focuses on the provision of nutritionally rich,varied, culturally and religiously appropriate meals to community members who often lack access to nutritious food options.
The increasing gentrification of the DTES community, which may lead to the displacement of community resources and the loss of community capacity, means there is a need to continue to foster community resiliency and explore how best to strengthen current initiatives. Food security will continue to be the major focus of the DTES Neighbourhood House’s programming, and the Right to Food Network is looking for ways to increase community capacity through community gardening projects and other similar areas.
Learn more, contribute, and celebrate Community Food Action with the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House Right to Food Network:
This is the fourth in a series of blog posts featuring each of our Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks.
Barb Wong (she, her, hers) was born and raised in Vancouver, and comes from Chinese heritage. She recently joined the Cedar Cottage Food Network Society (CCFN) in May 2020. For Barb, building connections with community members and their capacity through food is at the heart of her work with this Network—along with early memories of enjoying food with family.
“I grew up at the apron strings of my Poh Poh (maternal grandmother). I’d spend most of my days with her in the vegetable garden and kitchen,” says Barb.
“She prepared a lot of traditional foods including wind-dried duck that she would hang on the clothesline! I had an Easy Bake oven and she and I would spend hours baking little cakes.”
CCFN is an independent, non-profit organization working toward more sustainable and just food systems at the neighbourhood level. They create space for Kensington-Cedar Cottage residents to take part in different levels of food systems by providing programming, tools, and opportunities for community connections.
Business-as-usual for the Cedar Cottage Food Network involves urban farming, including gardening and food literacy workshops and seed saving. CCFN has helped meet community needs by providing access to an Indigenous medicine wheel garden and community grown food at Copley Community Orchard, along with access to low cost produce through community pop-up markets.
Prior to COVID-19, the Network operated two weekly community markets at two partner sites, where fresh produce was sold at cost to community members. To adapt to physical distancing protocols, they’ve changed their model to a pre-packaged produce box that is available to community members and agencies on a sliding scale ($10, $5 or free). Neighbours have been eager to show their appreciation for access to this food during tough times. One person places orders for a neighbour living with Multiple Sclerosis, who would otherwise have difficulty meeting her nutritional needs.
What neighbours are saying
“Thank you to everyone at Cedar Cottage and your amazing staff and volunteers. You all work so hard at making this produce program available to us. Everything is always of incredibly high quality and quantity. You make it affordable for myself, my daughter and granddaughters and my Mom to enjoy this nutritious produce.”
“You are also saving us all from having to wait in long lineups and then carry the produce home. Transit is difficult to access for them as well. My Mom is 90 years next month and my daughter has two toddler girls, so it’s difficult for them to get out at this time.”
“I have been using my portion to cook nutritious jars of soups and casseroles that I take to my Mom, so she has easy to reheat-and-eat meals at hand.”
“So thank you again from all of us to all of you. Your generosity and warm kindness is very much appreciated by us at this time. Bless your hearts.”
In the future, CCFN plans to expand on food literacy programming to include food preparation workshops, food justice advocacy, and broader partnerships with community groups. The Network’s goals include continuing to build community connections through food, and exploring opportunities to build a more sustainable local food network.
Learn more, contribute and celebrate community food action with Cedar Cottage Food Network:
Ian Marcuse (he, him, his) has been the food network coordinator for the Grandview Woodland Food Connection for 12 years. He is a Jewish/English cis male, born in Vancouver and raised in Calgary. At 59 years old, Ian identifies as “almost an early senior.” He has lived in the Grandview-Woodland community for 33 years
The Grandview Woodland Food Connection is dedicated to supporting the wellbeing of all residents living in Grandview Woodland by promoting an accessible, just and sustainable food system for the community. As a network, they seek to build capacity through education, information-sharing, and the creation of grassroots initiatives to address food security and justice issues.
The network has a strong school food garden program, due to the proximity of schools where they work. They have the longest-running coordinator of any Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, and they are a union site. They have a wide breadth of community food security programming, including a strong Indigenous focus to their work, and are working toward an even-stronger Indigenous food framework in their programming.
For Ian, respect and gratitude toward all the people he works with is paramount, especially with acknowledgment and redress to First Nations. He collaboratatively practices a decolonization and a land-based approach to food security, as well as place-based thinking, while upholding a strong networked model of organizing.
Ian appreciates meaningful collaborations, including a strong and active advisory committee and support from Britannia Community Services Society as the network’s host agency. The Grandview Woodland Food Connection practices strong coalition-building and positive relationships with the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, the City of Vancouver and other government institutions.
Ian came to this work, perhaps in spite of his own personal history of growing up with a lot of processed foods. “That was the 70’s and the health awareness was not as sophisticated back then. There was no organic food movement,” he says. “I am now fairly addicted to sugar and my guilty pleasure is Dairy Queen burgers. On the other hand, my mom was a good cook and so we did eat regular home-cooked meals.”
“Every Sunday was a full sit-down family dinner, usually with something more fancy, such as a roast beef—I think my father’s favourite, along with my mother’s delicious piroshkis,” Ian recalls.
“We also grew up with a small veggie garden, which I spent much time tending, so I developed a fairly decent green thumb at an early age.”
Business-as-usual for the Grandview Woodland Food Connection involves a whole host of food security activities, including school gardening, food celebrations like the iconic Stone Soup Festival, the Corn Festival, and other special events where meals are provided, along with networking and information-sharing.
Ian points out that COVID-19 has the network mainly focusing on emergency food provision. The closest program prior was the bulk food program, which was a wholesale food group purchasing program—also known as a good food box program. Ian likes to think of it more as a co-op model, where participants pay a minimal fee to purchase food.
Different from a food bank, the bulk food program is affordable and includes a more dignified system of reciprocity, preventing a sense of stigma. As a result, the network developed experience with bulk food procurement, sorting and distribution, which meant they were more prepared for COVID-19 emergency food delivery, with a heavy focus on food procurement. Having pre-existing relationships with businesses allowed them to purchase food at cost. The network’s well-established volunteer base and Britannia’s volunteer programmer helped them quickly implement the emergency food distribution program.
Ian talks about how people in the community have really stepped up to help with food delivery, whether it be the very generous donations received through a gofundme campaign, along with other donations and the 126 volunteers who have committed time to date. People in the Grandview-Woodland community truly care, which for Ian is the most heartwarming aspect of this work.
Another important story is that none of this effort, and none of this work just magically happened. It is the culmination of decades of community development work, of strong volunteer engagement, of building and fostering strong relations with partner organizations, businesses, funders, and community members. Most importantly, it is the local community organizations, working from a social development and place-based model that have fostered a culture of connection, caring and resilience that has allowed the network to successfully respond to this pandemic. It did not happen in a vacuum.
“While we only hear snippets of people’s lives through brief telephone conversations—including many stories of pain and physical suffering from poor health and aging,” Ian says, “we are reminded how difficult these times are for many people.” For Ian, COVID-19 has magnified the underlying complexities and systemic exclusion of the most vulnerable in the community, many of whom are struggling—financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually.”
“This pandemic has not affected us equitably,” Ian says. “Indigenous, Black, people of colour, women, young workers, trans people, folks with disabilities, and the elderly are more likely to be grappling with poverty, prejudice, stress and systemic discrimination.”
“But despite all this struggle so many people are letting us know how grateful they are for the food support that they are receiving. Our drivers always tell us how grateful people are when the food is dropped off.”
Ian Marcuse, Grandview Woodland Food Connection
Challenges & Goals
Some of the network’s future goals include establishing a neighbourhood-based/scale food hub with direct farm and inner city food distribution linkages. They would like to increase food storage capacity for quality food, like fresh produce. They have also recently become a United Way Local Love Food Hub.
Ian’s vision includes increasing community organizing and advocacy capacity, with a systems change focus. Ideally, they would like to hire a permanent school gardener programmer to coordinate and expand food growing and educational opportunities with school partners.
Learn more about Grandview-Woodland Food Connection, get involved, and celebrate community food action:
Founded in 2002, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice (formerly known as the Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute) is a neighbourhood food network that facilitates learning, leadership, and networking for local residents around food sharing, organic growing, food justice, food sovereignty, and nutrition to increase individual, family, and community capacity to attain food security.
Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice focuses on community meals, cooking and nutrition workshops, gardening and urban farming—including workshops and seed-saving. For this food network team, food justice advocacy is an essential aspect of the work.
“We really try to integrate an approach in all of our programs that is holistically rooted in community development-based, anti-oppressive, and justice-oriented frameworks.” “Our work includes expanding beyond just service-provision based work and trying to focus also on advocacy and solidarity work in food justice.”
Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice
The pandemic hasn’t stopped the network team from doing good work, like addressing social isolation, lessened nutrition, and food security due to barriers of income, race, language, age, citizenship status.
Once the COVID-19 restrictions came into place, the network adapted quickly. Resources and staff time dedicated to community kitchens and regular weekly community meal programs have now been redirected to producing frozen meals for weekly emergency food response distribution.
The network’s urban agriculture programming—including gardening skills workshops—initially shifted to being delivered in online workshop formats like Zoom and through the creation of digital content like pre-recorded videos. Now, some physically distanced in-person urban agriculture activities are resuming on-site at garden spaces.
“We use the universal experience of food as a connecting point to bring people together for community development.”
Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice
The Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice team aims to continue developing the existing interest—already demonstrated by our community members—in civic engagement, advocacy, and community dialogue around food justice and related issues.
Learn more about Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice, get involved, and celebrate community food action: