Transforming Lives Through Harvest Kitchens

It’s almost lunch time at the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) in north Etobicoke, and Titi Ebute is busy preparing hot food trays for the Harvest Kitchens program

A smile spreads across Titi’s face as chef instructor Patrick McNamara inspects the beef and vegetable stew she’s dishing into surveying trays.

“Everything we make is packed with nutrients. Before taking this program, I didn’t know anything about nutrition and how to cook healthy meals,” Titi explains, placing the trays alongside other wholesome meals she’s prepared with her classmates. Trays of seasoned chicken breasts, rice and vegetable medleys, chilies and pasta dishes are stacked on cooling racks.

Titi is a student enrolled in the Harvest Kitchens program at LEF, one of four kitchens across the city that Second Harvest supports. The Harvest Kitchens program equips under and unemployed youth and adults with basic culinary skills, preparing them for entry-level positions in the hospitality industry or for more advanced culinary training, while also helping provide nutritious, prepared meals to thousands of vulnerable and under-served people in Toronto.

How it Works

Second Harvest delivers fresh, recovered food to four Second Harvest partner kitchens – CORE, East Scarborough Boys & Girls Club, YMCA and LEF. Using these food donations, chef trainers work with their students to prepare nutritious trays that Second Harvest picks back up and delivers to 41 partner agencies that do not have the adequate kitchen facilities to prepare healthy and hearty meals for their community members.

Last year over 350,000 meals are prepared by approximately 75 trainers and students in the Harvest Kitchens program and more than 31,000 food insecure individuals are served through 39 recipient agencies.

Over the next four year, our aim is to continue to grow the Harvest Kitchen program. By 2020 we hope to provide 480,000 meals a year and provide 100 people a year with basic culinary skills.

Student Impact

Titi moves into the classroom, where she studies each afternoon alongside her classmates. In addition to the practical, culinary skills training, Harvest Kitchen students at LEF receive certification in Safe Food Handlers, First Aid/CPR and WHMIS.

Titi scrolls through photos on her phone, her pride echoing off the classroom walls as she lists off dishes she’s learned to prepare through the Harvest Kitchens program. When asked what her favourite thing about the program is, Titi explains, “Canada has helped me so much, and through this program I’m able to help support others who are struggling. It is a way for me to say thank you to the community.”

Born and raised in Nigeria, Titi arrived in Canada on January 1, 2017, after leaving a dangerous situation. With no belongings and nowhere to go, she found her way to Elisa House, a women’s shelter in south Etobicoke and eventually to Women’s Habitat, two agencies that Second Harvest supports through its food rescue and delivery program. When Titi first learned of the Harvest Kitchens program at Women’s Habitat she immediately arranged to take the preliminary entrance tests in hopes of being accepted into the program and was accepted less than two months after arriving in Canada.

“I was so happy when I learned I was enrolled, I ran to the shelter and told all my friends,” laughs Titi. “And now, here I am. Every day I’m learning. I go home feeling so proud and inspired.”

Titi understands what it means to be food insecure, and has accessed food programs at many of the agencies Second Harvest serves. Her experience, coupled with the training she is receiving through Harvest Kitchens, helped Titi recognize how valuable access to healthy, nutrient-dense foods is.

“If you’re a healthy person, you can excel in anything,” Titi says. “But if you don’t have good, healthy food, it’s much harder to succeed.”

Titi dreams of one day opening a small food business with her daughter, who will arrive in Canada in the fall. They plan to cook both Nigerian and western dishes now that she is equipped to do so.

Her optimism is contagious; her willingness to and give back and support the community, inspiring.  “This program has changed my life. Not only has it helped me understand the importance of food nutrition and food safety, it has enabled me to support others who are having a hard time. I can take pride in that. And I can begin to dream for my future in Canada.”

Second Harvest is deeply grateful for the support of our donors to the Harvest Kitchens program. It is a privilege for us to help these donors realize their vision of what is possible in our community.   The leadership and investment of these donors has helped to build a healthier, more resilient Toronto.

Scotiabank

Capital One

Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life

Echo Foundation

State Street Corporation

Chefs Plate

CIBC

Hylcan Foundation

MAZON Foundation