“Any door is the right door, and when you walk through it, we’ve got the right people here for you.” Kristina McMillan, NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre Director
Opening the door to health at the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre

The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre is located in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Inkster, a community that struggles with deep-rooted poverty, food insecurity, and poor health. 23% of Inkster families live on low incomes. And 12.9% live with diabetes, higher than the city average 8. Created through a partnership with NorWest Co-op Community Health, the Community Food Centre is a welcoming space where people can come together around healthy food. It also provides a new way for health centre staff to reach people who might otherwise feel intimidated or reluctant to access health services. The partnership is now catching the attention of other Community Health Centres and health professionals across Canada as a new way to engage with chronic disease and poor health.

  • MARCH 2013
    Project announced
  • Summer 2013
    Investment from Gov’t of Manitoba and other funders
  • May 2014
    Raised bed gardens installed by local youth and landscapers
  • July 2014
    Renovations begin
  • April 2015

Every Friday at the community lunch, a nurse comes by to chat with people, find out what’s happening in their lives, and connect them to health resources they may need — pulling health conversations out of the doctor’s office and into a more relaxed social setting. Dietitians refer people who need to make changes in their diets to fun and practical cooking groups like the Living Well with Diabetes kitchen. A mobile diabetes-screening program comes on-site during some sessions. Public health nurses visit the Healthy Baby Group to talk with new moms. And youth social workers visit the after-school Bike Blender Smoothie Drop-in to connect with kids and provide on-the-spot counselling.

The change is clear. 84% of community members with one or more health conditions say that participating in programs has helped them better manage their condition, and 78% say programs have helped them make healthy changes to their diets. Opening the door to health at NorWest Co-op CFC has also meant building a sense of community and support: 97% of people surveyed say they feel they belong to a community at the CFC, and 90% have made a new friend.

square feet of space
community members interviewed during the community consultations
healthy meals served
programs, including a free Community Lunch, Living Well with Diabetes Cooking Group, Filipino Families Cooking Group, Kids’ Smoothie Drop-in, and Community Action Program
programs, including a free Community Lunch, Living Well with Diabetes Cooking Group, Filipino Families Cooking Group, Kids’ Smoothie Drop-in, and Community Action Program
of people surveyed say the CFC is an important source of healthy food
community member visits to advocacy office for support
"Partnerships like this allow health care to meet the needs of the community it serves, in a way that the community needs. By proactively having a range of services available in a comfortable, less clinical setting, health providers are able to build relationships — and trust. The residents of this community have not only built trusting relationships with health providers, they’ve also made friends. Newcomers and people who are socially isolated are now building a support network of their own, an element which further contributes to their health and wellness." Milton Sussman, CEO, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
“Before I came here — I’m almost 66 years old — I never ate tomatoes. I never ate cauliflower, onions, peppers. Now I eat all of that stuff.” community member Eve England
A space that brings the community together

From the day the doors opened, the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre has been bursting with life. In a neighbourhood with a dearth of places to buy fresh food and few community spaces, there’s now a bright, welcoming Community Food Centre with a big learning kitchen, a garden, and a dining room with that quintessential east coast open-door policy. Those doors open extra wide during the Saturday morning affordable produce market.

The market is run by a group of dedicated volunteers of all ages. “Every Friday, we do quite a large bulk purchase of produce at wholesale costs,” says CFC Manager Deborah Dickey. A group of kids who live nearby come over after school on Fridays to help set up. The following morning, volunteers staff tables as the dining room transforms into a full-blown market, complete with a Community Café. “Over 100 people come through these doors in the space of a few hours each Saturday,” says Dickey. “We’ve barely done any outreach for this — it’s all been driven by word of mouth.”

  • MARCH 2013
    Partnership announced
  • 2014
    Sobeys donates space
  • Spring 2015
    Renovations begin
  • Summer 2015
    Programs start

The Community Food Centre also provides the space and resources necessary for people to start tackling deeper issues facing the community. Last October, it was voter turn-out, which has long been very low in the district. In the lead-up to a municipal by-election, volunteer Vel Oakes worked with the centre’s Community Action Coordinator to organize an all-candidates event in the space in order to enable community members to speak with candidates about issues like food insecurity, transit accessibility, and affordable child care.

In a community struggling with poverty that has long thought of itself as voiceless, cultivating civic engagement is an uphill battle. But the CFC hopes to play a growing role in getting people engaged and involved in making change in their community.

square feet of space
of residents often or sometimes find it hard to buy healthy food
community members interviewed during the community consultations
volunteers supporting programs
people enjoy a nutritious meal at each community meal
programs, including Community Meals, Cooking Groups for Adults, Young Cooks, Farm Fit Friday, Community Café & Market, and Community Action Program
people enjoy a nutritious meal at each community meal
square feet of outdoor space will be developed into a community urban farm producing veggies for programs and the community

“I cannot explain to you the feeling of defeat when you know you have to eat something that’s going to put you in pain, because there’s nothing else to eat; the loneliness that comes from being alone in an apartment day in and day out because you can’t afford to go anywhere. It’s just a never-ending cycle.

Since coming here in August, my health both mental and physical has improved. Getting healthy meals and affordable food has made it so I have a choice about what goes into my body. Mentally I feel better because I’m no longer stressed over pain. I have a place other than my apartment to go, to eat, to be around people or to just sit by myself. I just started volunteering. I even joined a cooking class. I’m so grateful that someone’s thoughts and actions brought this to our community.”

Susie, Community member
Going further together

Our first Food Summit brought together staff from Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations across Canada to exchange program best practices, and learn from one another. Over one weekend in Toronto, delegates attended sessions on how to prioritize healthy food in programs, create relevant skill-building opportunities that meet people where they’re at, and engage community members in making social change. Attendees went back to their communities energized, inspired, and more connected to a network of colleagues from coast to coast who can help them take their work further.

staff from Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations attended the Food Summit
Number of organizations represented at the Food Summit
sessions, including a panel featuring leading food insecurity researcher Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, physician and Evans Health Lab founder Dr. Mike Evans, and community leader Damian Adjodha
sessions, including a panel featuring leading food insecurity researcher Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, physician and Evans Health Lab founder Dr. Mike Evans, and community leader Damian Adjodha

Share the Warmth had a great experience at the first Food Summit and we’re looking forward to being there again in 2016. We were able to share ideas and resources and connect with other like-minded groups in Quebec and across the country.

It’s also where we learned about FoodFit, a program piloted by Community Food Centres Canada that combines nutrition education, physical activity, and cooking workshops to improve overall health and wellness. Since then, we’ve run the pilot to great results. Participants are feeling more hopeful and positive about their health, are walking more, have lost inches off their waist, and have increased their flexibility.”

Fiona Crossling, Executive Director, Share the Warmth / Partageons l’espoir, Montreal, QC
An investment in organizational change

Our support for the sector grew in 2015 with the launch of three grant streams that support Good Food Organizations to offer programs and accelerate change.

Experience has taught us that well-timed and flexible funding is a key driver of organizational change. Through our transformation grants, we invest in Good Food Organizations with proven local impact at a critical moment in their development. We pair financial support with program expertise, mentorship, and access to a community of practice — resources that together form a springboard for success.

A $50,000 grant to B.C.’s Nelson Food Cupboard is enabling the organization to diversify the programs it offers in order to reach more people in the community. The grant will also support them to strengthen their fundraising capacity to resource that work.

In addition to capacity-building grants, we also offer two program-focused grant streams. The first supports innovation in food education programs for children and youth. The second funds organizations to offer FoodFit, a healthy eating and exercise program for people living on low incomes. Local learning from grantees in all streams feeds into a knowledge base that will support the work of other organizations in the future.

total funds awarded
grants awarded to organizations based in 12 different cities across Canada

The Lawson Foundation is pleased to support the development of innovative food skills programs for children and youth at Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations that will focus on creating the basis for life-long healthy eating habits.

We’re also proud to contribute to a community of practice for food programs that will catalyze a shift in the conversation about how organizations work on health and equity issues in low-income communities.”

Marcel Lauzière, President & CEO, The Lawson Foundation
  1. Centre for Healthcare Innovation (CHI) & Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA). 2014 Community Health Assessment, 2015.
Photo Credits (From the top down)
  1. NorWest Co-op CFC staff, courtesy of NorWest Co-op CFC.
  2. Dartmouth North CFC staff, courtesy of Dartmouth North CFC.
  3. Community Food Centres Canada staff.
  4. Courtesy of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton.