by Erin Hatfild
A program that exchanges hard work for credits to buy food has been life changing for the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) members piloting it.
Select members of the drop-in centre, called PARC Ambassadors, are piloting the Co-op Cred Program, which allows them to learn skills and purchase food regardless of social assistance restriction.
Eugene Hennie calls himself a direct beneficiary of the Co-op Cred Program pilot in Parkdale.
“I was destitute and not really advancing in my life,” he said. “This opportunity presented itself and it allowed me to become more of a human being.”
For Hennie that meant that rather than depending on food banks and meal programs he was able to work in a community garden and purchase healthy food with his work credits.
“What was really good for me is I was taking food from the food bank for the last year and a half, but now I don’t have to so – I am freeing that up for someone else,” he said. “That is one of the greatest joys I have had in the last six months.”
Bob Rose, a senior PARC manager and the current coordinator of the PARC Ambassadors program, said it allows people, who might not otherwise be able, to access, purchase and consume healthy food.
“The community I represent haven’t had access to healthy food,” he said. “Having access to healthy food can be a revolutionary experience.”
The Co-op Cred Program is a partnership between the West End Food Co-op (WEFC), PARC and Greenest City under the Parkdale People’s Economy Project, an ongoing collaboration between various community organizations to build a resilient local economy and a just local food system. Specifically, the Co-op Cred Program is a WEFC project and the pilot project was developed in partnership with PARC.
Ambassadors shared their insight into the Co-op Cred pilot project at the Parkdale Food Network on June 26 at Masaryk-Cowan Community Center.
The pilot project started last February when a handful of PARC members were offered the chance to earn credits by working at the West End Food Co-op and with those credits they could purchase goods at the co-op store.
Once a week each person works a three-hour shift, and their work is worth the equivalent of $13 an hour. Five positions were created at the WEFC and they were given various training and supports in their roles there.
Ambassadors worked as kitchen, produce and inventory staff. They also received their Food Handler Certification to prepare, cook and serve safe food.
An additional three PARC Ambassadors were given roles at Greenest City, which runs the HOPE Garden, to work in community gardening where their tasks ranged from weeding and watering to making compost and harvesting. Each worked for two-hour shifts, once a week, which they earned co-op credits for.
“One of the most important elements of the Co-op Cred Program is that right from the beginning it has been a learning and doing exercise,” Rose said. “People felt valued, people felt they were learning new skills, being welcomed and respected.”
For Bonnie Briggs, the biggest benefit for working as a PARC Ambassador in the Co-op Cred program is that she and her husband, both of whom are on the Ontario Disability Support Program, have a full fridge.
“I remember early in our marriage when we were lucky to have anything in our fridge at all,” Briggs said. “At times we were living on icing sugar.”
But, with the credits she earns to buy food at the WEFC, Briggs said they could make good food choices and the grocery money they do have goes further.
It has not been determined when this pilot project will wrap up, but according to Kuni Kamizaki with the Parkdale People’s Economy and the Parkdale Food Network, it will be sometime toward the end of the year. Then, Kamizaki said, the plan is to expand the scope of participants to include more PARC members, not just ambassadors, and members from other agencies such as Parkdale Community Health Centre.
Taken from InsideToronto.com