LOCAL FLAVOUR: The Gift of Good Food for the holidays

By Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

Tired of roaming the mall last-minute for the perfect gift for your honey? Got enough “stuff” accumulating in your home? What about giving something meaningful that keeps on giving all year round this holiday?

Fernwood NRG offers a Good Food Box program where families can purchase a biweekly box of fresh fruits and vegetables at over 15 locations in neighbourhoods across Greater Victoria. Part of this program, The Gift of Good Food, includes the ability to sponsor boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to provide assistance to families who can really use extra support.

The Gift of Good Food program sees the Fernwood NRG partner with community centres, neighbourhood houses and transition houses. Contributions to the program allow support workers at the 15 partner locations to select families in need to receive fresh fruit and vegetable boxes year round.

Now in its third year, the program is making a difference in people’s lives. “The Gift of Good Food has helped us during some very difficult times. It has allowed us to make our meals as healthy as possible. It has shown our family that there are people in the community who care” explains a recipient.

“I think this need is largely invisible,” says Shonna Bell, family programs co-ordinator at the Fernwood Community Centre. “Parents aren’t necessarily sharing with everyone that they can’t afford to feed their children a proper meal or that they’re eating canned food all the time.”

The need for access to consistent, fresh produce does not exist only during the holidays but all year. The Gift of Good Food aims to help fill this need.

Other program recipients talk about how the program has contributed to improving their health. Susan shares that: “It has totally transformed our diet. I look forward to learning how to prepare vegetables I normally couldn’t afford.”

We know that over 50,000 people in our region need to access emergency food. One in six of these people are children. We also know that access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a major indicator of health. Eating a healthy diet improves our ability to concentrate and do well in school or at work. I believe that while we work to increase the conditions that make food more affordable in our community (such as affordable housing and employment opportunities) we need to do better at creating opportunities to access good food. Not only are largely preventable diet-related chronic diseases costing all of us over $10 billion a year in Canada, it is just the right thing to do. We can also move away from support systems that see people lining up for food at the food banks. Many in the emergency food providing community are doing a great job at making these changes. The Gift of Good Food Program is one example of this shift.

There is a real desire to support families augment their diets in a way that is dignified and promotes social connections and wellbeing.

The Good Food Box program is open to all people in the community and pick up days brings everyone in the door of the centres. There is no distinguishing the Gift of Good Food Box recipients and the Good Food Box customers, so picking up a box alongside others in the community is non-stigmatizing.

“On top of having fresh fruits and veggies to eat, we pick up our veggies from our local community centre and that has enhanced our child’s connection to her community” shares another Gift of Good Food Box recipient. “We are very grateful for this most generous and needed gift. Our gratitude grows deeper every two weeks.”

One of last year’s recipients further explains how he sees the multiple benefits of the program, it is “providing access to healthy food, increasing food literacy, strengthening connections to community, and learning about the importance of giving, to name a few.”

Mila Czemerys, one of the program fundraisers, let me know that so far this year they are 15 per cent of the way to their goal of raising $75,000. She wanted to give a huge thank you to everyone who has already contributed. “Our goal is to support 150 families in 2018. This doesn’t solve the problem but it’s a start.”

A donation of $500 buys a biweekly box year round for a family; you can either sponsor a box or give what you can. So if you are thinking of your loved ones this holiday and feel that they would appreciate this meaningful way to support others in the community, please donate what you can. Every contribution makes a difference. Donate at thegiftofgoodfood.ca/donate.

Amid the holiday hustle please remember to enjoy the season, and know it can also be hard for many as they remember family and friends, or struggle to make all the ends meet. Be good to each other. Wishing you the best of the holidays and looking forward to more Local Flavour in 2018.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.

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