A pair of bright pink doors sets the tone for the warm welcome low-income families and individuals receive when they seek out the Shelbourne Community Kitchen to alleviate their food insecurity.
The non-profit grows its own produce, operates a pantry and offers food skills programs. Founded in 2015 and run out of a little white house on Shelbourne Street until 2021, the organization moved into the same building as the Lutheran Church of the Cross later the same year.
The organization has 1,400 members and serves 1,100 adults and 400 children. Membership, which includes seniors, students and newcomers, jumped 30 per cent in 2022.
“Come in any day we are open and you will be greeted with the chitter-chatter of the gathered people,” said Clarice Dillman, board chair. “To make people from different cultures feel at home, some of our literature and forms are translated into 13 different languages, including Arabic, Tagalog, Spanish, Chinese and now, Ukrainian.”
The organization’s grocery program offers healthy food choices, with accommodations for people with dietary restrictions and food allergies when possible. The pantry tries to stock culturally appropriate food staples.
Of the 23,000 kilograms of food it distributed in 2022, the organization’s gardens produced more than 3,750 kilograms of fresh vegetables. One plot is across the street, on the grounds of St. Luke Anglican Church. It also cultivates a 139-square-metre plot of prime farm land at Omnivore Acres Farm in Central Saanich.
The organization doesn’t just wait for people to walk in.
“We will meet people where they are at, if necessary,” said Dillman, who leads an 11-member board.
Some of the organization’s 191 volunteers deliver food and check on the welfare of people who have mobility issues.
To foster a sense of community, the organization has offered virtual cooking programs during the pandemic.
“It has been very popular as it centres on drawing upon community knowledge, For example, we had a recent class on preparaing Syrian comfort food,” said Kim Cummins, executive director of the organization. “We teach together and try to show how a person, or family, can still eat well on a limited budget.”
By the end of April, the organization plans to add a commercial kitchen at its 370 square-metre facility so it can offer in-person cooking programs and share community meals.
“Having a kitchen gives us an opportunity to grow and to make it even more of a home to so many folks,” said Cummins. “It will be a place where the community will be able to share cooked meals. It will also allow us to rent the facility to other community groups and generate an income stream.”
The renovation, budgeted for around $200,000, also includes accessibility upgrades to the premises.
A fundraising and capital campaign is expected to be announced soon.
For more information, go to shelbournecommunitykitchen.ca/about-us.