Wednesday, November 18, 2015
A veritable institution of Toronto’s west end, the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, or PARC as it’s mostly known, has been a committed service provider and community hub to a challenged neighbourhood since 1979. With 40% of the South Parkdale neighbourhood living below the poverty line and experiencing food insecurity, its open door policy 365 days of the year has meant that PARC is an important place of refuge and rejuvenation for those struggling with poverty, and mental health and addiction issues.
Committed to cultivating a dignified and empowering space, PARC is proud to be one of our newest Good Food Organizations. PARC staff work closely with the men and women who come through their door to provide more than just support services. Instead, participants are encouraged to lend a helping hand in the kitchen or to become Ambassadors and peer advocates. In the process they become “members” rather than simply participants or clients. As one member puts it, ““There is a need to help everyone. I’ve volunteered now for seven years. My worker is more of a friend than a staff person. The music and the food are good. I don’t feel safe where I live. I come here to feel safe.”
Offering delicious, healthy meals gets people in the door and opens up the table to new conversations and friendships, creating a path to an open, inclusive community of members. According to one member, “Because we know most of the people, I have lots of friends here. People are friendly and say hi to each other in the street. It makes a very friendly neighbourhood.”
PARC runs peer advocate, housing support, and case management programs. But the central pillar of their work is their Community Meals program. In 2014, they served a whopping 67,833 meals, “but we’re about much more than filling people’s bellies,” says Alain Levesque, chef. “PARC’s meals programming focuses on reversing the injustices of poverty and increasing food security in our members who live in vulnerable circumstances.”
Chef Alain credits PARC’s Community Meals program with keeping people hopeful during the darker winter months. Members who come to PARC for breakfast and lunch are often homeless, so they face additional challenges in purchasing, storing, and preparing food – their food needs exist outside of the market. PARC has always been at its heart a community organization that lives its anti-oppression principles. Along with the fantastic meals created by Alain and a core group of volunteers who started out as members, PARC offers programming that supports community members to transform their lives. Their Co-op Cred program compensates members for volunteer work with up to $50 in credit they can spend at a local independent grocery store and farmers’ market run by the West End Food Co-op.
What does the coming winter mean for an organization like PARC? Chef Alain expects their numbers to increase as more people will come in just to escape the elements. “Some come in for survival supplies like socks and sleeping bags. We provide the space, safe atmosphere, and daily meal access for marginalized people to congregate around.”
PARC is excited to be included in the latest round of Good Food Organizations. They look forward to being part of a national network where they can share strategies around creating systems level changes. “No one agency can go it alone!” shared Alain. PARC hopes to benefit from the GFO’s network of agencies, ideas, resources, and training in the coming year.
Looking ahead, Alain and his team are now busy preparing for their Winter Solstice and Christmas Day events. They’re planning to invite a chef from a participating MealShare restaurant to collaborate on their seasonal celebratory menu. Alain knows that members look forward to PARC’s winter festivities — “we’d like it to be really special! In my four years as a chef here, I’ve seen that people’s tastebuds have really opened up.”
Article is taken from Community Food Centres Canada