You’ve heard of community gardens, but what about community kitchens?
The growing movement, whose purpose is to provide families with the chance to gather together and prepare healthy, affordable meals which are then shared among the group, isn’t exactly brand new, but it’s just now beginning to gain momentum in the Capital Region.
In Saanich, a pair of community kitchens are operated by Saanich Neighbourhood Place in the George R. Pearkes Recreation Centre.
“It’s really taking off, because more and more people are finding it difficult to fill their food needs, especially if they don’t have a big budget for that sort of thing,” said Sheila Avery, coordinator of food security programs at Saanich Neighbourhood Place.
Avery, who has overseen similar programs “across the prairies” added that while making meals is the stated purpose of the kitchens, in reality they provide much more than just food.
“It’s also a way for people to meet others,” she said. “Maybe they’re new to the area and they don’t know anyone, or they want to get to know their neighbours better.”
The social aspect of the kitchens can’t be overstated, said the executive director of the provincially funded centre.
“In my mind, it’s as important as the meals they come away with,” Colleen Hobson said. “The support systems are huge. In times of high stress, just having an outlet can be great. Some of the conversations you hear in the kitchen are pretty enlightening.”
The community kitchens operate on about $30,000 a year, with the money coming from gaming revenue. The funds don’t cover the cost of all the food — some comes either from donations or the participants themselves. The grants also pay a portion of Avery’s salary.
Saanich Neighbourhood Place also offers childminding services, which helps parents take part in many of the programs offered at the centre.
That focus on inclusiveness extends to individual cooking abilities.
“We have two ends of the spectrum,” said Avery, about the community kitchen participants. “One’s ‘I’m going to teach you how to cut an onion,’ and the other are super cooks.”
The cost to participants is minimal. There’s no charge if you supply your own food. If you don’t, the cost is $5 per session.
Generally, participants come once every week or two on a rotating basis. Each session yields three or four meals that can be taken home and frozen for future consumption. The menu varies depending on what food is available.
There are anywhere from 100 to 150 people involved in the kitchens at a given time throughout the year, said Hobson, adding that she and Avery are exploring ways to expand the program so that it can run during the evening as well.
As the kitchens continue to grow, so too does a sense of community.
“When you see the success of support networks, with food being the medium that joins people together, that’s the best part,” said Avery.
For more information on available programs, including the community kitchens, visit www.saanichneighbourhoodplace.com/programs.