The Road Runner sits outside at 30 Rosemount Avenue inside a custom box built by Habitat for Humanity. Donated by the Hintonburg Community Association, it’s the first outdoor community fridge in Ottawa, thanks to the caring team of radical thinkers at the Parkdale Food Centre and its incredible local partners. And it’s just one of the innovative programs put into place by the Centre since the start of the pandemic.
When the Ottawa Community Food Partnership, Habitat for Humanity Greater Ottawa, Zero Food Waste Ottawa, and the Hintonburg Community Association joined Parkdale Food Centre to address food insecurity and poverty, the Road Runner was born. Since spring 2021, Director of Development & Communications Meredith Kerr says, “The fridge is stocked regularly and is emptied as quickly as it is filled.” And people are coming from as far as Carleton Place for the service.
The Road Runner’s purpose is to share good food with those that need it, says Kerr. It exists “thanks to staff, volunteers and neighbours who check its temperature, keep it clean and stocked.”
Starting conversations, being bold and flexible, and sharing knowledge turns people into what Parkdale Executive Director Karen Secord and Kerr call “solutionaries.” The idea of the Reverse Food Truck is just one example of a bold campaign to get people to change the ways that they donated to food banks.
“I wanted people to do the ‘reverse’ of what they had been conditioned to do,” Secord says. “I had seen the heavy bags of cans that people received, many times not even items that could make even two nutritious meals, and thought I could change people’s habits. Traditional food drives were replaced with donations of perishable food—veggies from their garden, eggs, milk, cheese, produce, etc.”
Parkdale hasn’t been able to host neighbours indoors since March 2020 but, to tackle the isolation many face, they created Coffee and Conversation in October 2021. Each Wednesday from 9–10am, neighbours come for coffee, treats, and chats, at a safe distance. Parkdale staff check to see if anyone needs clothing items or additional services, a vital touchpoint when daily visits can’t occur.
Critical community work must carry on despite the pandemic. Responding to adversity with smart thinking and creativity led to a new event called Fresh Eats Friday, where Parkdale Food Centre chefs cook 250 hot, healthy takeaway meals for neighbours. Each week, all of them are picked up. A free produce market where neighbours can pick from an array of perishable vegetables accompanies the take-out dinners. Again, everything goes, evidence of Ottawa’s food needs.
“At Home with Anna” is another program bringing people together. Anna March, who’s held previous cooking gigs at Edgar and Beckta, teaches a 50-person cooking group new recipes every week via Zoom. Chromebooks are shared with participants beforehand and meal kits are delivered in advance. Together, everyone makes a tasty, healthy meal and then eats and talks afterwards.
All of the latest food inventions at Parkdale are part of a bigger food picture: Improving healthy meals for those less fortunate via foundational change. Secord wants to ensure that “the human right to food is respected for all Canadians and that food banking is no longer normalized as a way for governments to abdicate their responsibility.”
“People can help by sharing compassion with your community. Put yourself in a place of poverty and food insecurity—the incredible choices you have to make to meet your basic human rights,” says Kerr. “We know that food is medicine and that when good food is shared with kindness and care, people are happier and healthier.”
The team at Parkdale Food Centre believes that good and nutritious food is a fundamental human right. Everyone is welcome to have a seat at their table. Visit their website at www.parkdalefoodcentre.ca to find out how you can get involved and watch their documentary “Sitting At The Table, A Human Right To Food” on YouTube. Find out more on the human right to food on our Instagram @parkdalefood.