5 community kitchens making the GTA better through food
From skill-building to forging connections to—of course—chowing down, these food-focused organizations are making a difference in their communities
BY TARA-MICHELLE ZINIUK
We all know food brings people together. Across cultures and communities, food is a frequent focal point for gatherings—which means kitchens often become a social hub within our homes. Lately, though, initiatives known as “community kitchens” are taking that concept public.
They’re all places where you can support your community through food, but each community kitchen is unique: some are social enterprises that provide training and/or employment opportunities to members of marginalized communities; some make and serve food to the public. Others offer opportunities for groups to make and enjoy a meal together or offer rentals to other small businesses and workshop facilitators. Most, if not all, are connected to a neighbourhood group or non-profit.
Here are some community kitchens that should be on your radar, whether you’re in the mood for a snack with friends, a catered meal or an opportunity to volunteer.
The kitchen: The community kitchen at this parent-and-child drop-in space in Toronto’s west end serves daily lunches that are affordable, sustainable and kid-approved. Adults pay $5, kids pay $2.50 for dishes like spanakopita, daal and shepherd’s pie. There are also monthly workshops on a variety of culinary topics, such as making your own baby food or preserving, as well as community dinners and even the occasional Sunday brunch.
Who it helps: The Children’s Storefront has been running for over 40 years with the mandate to make the early days of parenting less difficult and isolating. Parents and caregivers of young children are welcome.
Know before you go: The kitchen is sensitive to dietary preferences and restrictions—you’ll be fine if you’re vegan, veg, gluten-free or a meat-eater. Bonus: lunch menus are posted in advance for easy planning.
The kitchen: The Social Gardener Café is part of a multi-purpose east-end organization/workspace/social enterprise, which also includes a gallery, event venue and rooftop garden. Expect wholesome fare, such as vegan bowls, avocado toast and locally roasted coffee served up in a cozy room with overstuffed sofas and exposed brick. There are lots of games and books, options for solo time and opportunities to meet people in the neighbourhood.
Who it helps: The enterprise provides “immigrant, refugee, and marginalized women and youth” with training and skill building, funded in part by money from the café. The Riverdale Immigrant Women’s Centre operates out of the Riverdale Hub and the two organizations work together on various initiatives.
Know before you go: The café space is available for exclusive rental. They’ve hosted everything from film screenings to meetings and art shows.
The kitchen: What started as a food bank at Mississauga’s Eden United Church has now grown into its own food-focused organization with two locations to respond to increased hunger in the area. Instead of a traditional food bank model, the org now aims to be more holistic, providing both “[cooking] skills and… opportunities to learn more about good, healthy food” in addition to seven to ten days’ worth of nutritionally balanced groceries.
Who it helps: Originally serving only Meadowvale, EFFC now serves all of western Mississauga. There are three programs on offer: cooking classes for families with low incomes and organizations that work with low-income people; group volunteer opportunities and seasonal employment and skills training for people who face barriers and want to work in the service industry.
The kitchen: This Brampton community kitchen offers programs like fresh produce boxes, gardening initiatives, seed swaps and clothing drives. They work on food access issues in the area, and have a community kitchen that runs various programs year-round.
Who it helps: The Good Food Brampton Community kitchen serves residents of the diverse city of Brampton, and sometimes Caledon, Mississauga, and other parts of Peel region, depending on the program. The focus here is on learning, skill development and empowerment. The programs are aimed at youth (ages 12-24), seniors (55 and over), newcomer youth and newcomer women, and teach everything from baking and cooking skills to health and wellness workshops.
Know before you go: This community kitchen currently operates registered programs only, many with partner organizations. However, there are volunteer opportunities and one-time pop-up events open to the public, such as a holiday bakeshop and decadent Easter brunch. The youth programs sometimes serve lunches they’ve created—pop-up style, with menus posted on the org’s Twitter page—that are as nutritious as they are affordable. Chopped kale salad, homemade pasta, and vegetarian minestrone have made appearances on recent menus. Also: cream puffs!
The kitchen: Run through the Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre in Toronto, the LOFT Kitchen is one project of the LOFT Youth Centre for Social Enterprise and Innovation (YCSEI). Marginalized youth aged 16-19 who are interested in the food and hospitality industry are trained in food service—and the results are delicious. Participants run a catering business with a multi-cultural menu, and a down-to-earth café offering lunch fare—homemade soups, filling sandwiches, baked goods, and a full espresso bar.
Who it helps: The program welcomes marginalized youth from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including young parents, young people with disabilities, racialized, and LGBTQ+ youth. Many participants of the LOFT Kitchen program go on to attend local culinary college and university programs, and are hired in prestigious kitchens, including the Fairmont Royal York.
Know before you go: The LOFT kitchen is open weekdays only. There’s an onsite art gallery, featuring the work of local youth artists (art sales are split between LOFT and the artists—another way to support the project, and young people involved).
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