The Shelbourne Community Kitchen organization has been born. All it needs now is an actual kitchen.
Three churches and two community associations in the Shelbourne Valley have officially joined forces to establish a community kitchen. The intent is to allow people to cook and share free meals together, and for the kitchen to act as a central food bank for the neighbourhood.
Members from Lutheran Church of the Cross, St. Luke’s Anglican Church, St. Aidan’s United Church, Mount Tolmie Community Association and Camosun Community Association signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, which formalizes co-operation and creates a single organization.
“The MOU is important in the sense of the commitment of the partners for the ongoing project. It makes it possible for the next step, which is to find the facility,” said Rev. Lyal McKenzie with the Lutheran Church.
The initiative emerged out of a more than a year of informal talks among the churches and community groups about poverty and food security in the Mount Tolmie, Cedar Hill and North Dairy areas of Saanich.
Most churches in the area offer food and food vouchers, and McKenzie said they’ve have seen a considerable uptick in families and seniors needing help to make end’s meet.
“Food is a growing need. For the past one and a half or two years, demand has doubled (at the Lutheran Church) from 12 or 15 households per month now to over 30,” he said. “For the most part people have housing, but not much is left after that for food.”
The three churches involved would merge their individual food and voucher pantries into one, if and when the kitchen is established. The Lutheran Church as access to a $100,000 grant for the project from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada.
“People will get more support than just food or vouchers,” McKenzie said. “Our intention is to offer people the opportunity to join a community and make food, and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.”
Finding a kitchen could be a tall order. The Shelbourne Community Kitchen needs a space with a functioning stove or oven, and space for food preparation, dining and storage, and it needs to be relatively close to major bus lines, preferably near Shelbourne Street.
“The Shelbourne area is easiest for people using the bus, if they are taking food portions away or groceries and have kids in tow,” said Laura Cochrane, who has facilitated the community kitchen discussions for the past year. “We do need a kitchen, a full kitchen isn’t essential, and 600 to 800 square feet of prep space, storage and seating.”
Marlene Bergstrom, president of the Mount Tolmie Community Association, has been hunting for a community kitchen space for the past year, and said it’s tough to find available space that meets the group’s specific needs, which also includes building small community garden plots.
She is confident a location will be found and expects it will help the most vulnerable populations in the area – seniors, students and new immigrants. “People can come share a meal, prepare a meal and get resources,” Bergstrom said. “We think there is a need based on demographics and research.”
Cochrane noted that the MOU that established the Shelbourne Community Kitchen is critical in terms creating a body that can make decisions, sign leases and seek grants. The group’s next step is creating a steering committee and a project leader.
“A discussion group isn’t a decision-making body. Even if we had found the perfect place, we weren’t at a point where we could do anything,” Cochrane said. “Now is the time. It’s a critical time to find a location for the kitchen.”
For more on the project or to help out, see shelbournecommunitykitchen.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.