Whether they're facing the spectre of hunger each and every day, or working to reduce hunger in their neighbourhoods, each of these people are part of the Second Harvest community, and each has a story to tell.
Don Pugh has been attending Toronto Taste for almost two decades, and in all that time he says there’s one image that, for him, embodies the heart and soul of the event.
It was the year many Taste-goers refer to fondly as “The Mud Bowl,” when a torrential rainstorm turned the open-air event into a muddy and memorable occasion for guests, chefs and volunteers. (It has been tented ever since.) For Don, VP of The Daniels Corporation, which has been a proud supporter of Second Harvest and presenting sponsor of Toronto Taste for 18 years, it resulted in his favourite and most vivid Taste memory.
“I remember someone from the Second Harvest team in a really beautiful cocktail dress, helping somebody push a vehicle out of a muddy field and covered in mud from head to toe,” he says. “That image, to me, signifies the heart and soul of everybody involved in this important event.”
Don recalls that everyone, from guests to chefs, took the unexpected conditions in stride. “No one was going home. Everyone was going to make this event happen and make the experience fantastic,” he says. “There was spirit in both the group that was working there, and the people who were attending.”
Year after year, this spirit is typical of the Taste community. Don sees it in the volunteers who give up their Sunday to help make the event an incredible experience, and in the chef teams who donate food and drink, and spend days planning and preparing. None of that would happen, he says, without this kind of heart and soul, as well as dedication to the impact Taste has in our community through Second Harvest.
The Good Neighbours Club (GNC) has been serving homeless men over 50 since the Great Depression, when it was founded to ensure that WWI veterans could enjoy a hot meal with dignity. In 1986, they became one of the first members of the Second Harvest agency network, receiving deliveries of surplus food that are their only source of meat and vegetables.
Today, GNC is a community space offering a variety of programming and essential services, including a core meal program that provides three meals a day, 365 days a year, to about 400 men from Toronto’s emergency shelter system, substandard housing or the streets.
“We do surveying of our guys every three months and food is always a top priority—always,” says Director of Operations Lauro Monteiro.
Times may have changed over the last 80 years, but the need for a hot meal in a safe space hasn’t gone away. In fact, GNC has seen a 33 percent increase in demand over the last two years, going from serving 40,000 meals a year to 53,000. If it wasn’t for the food Second Harvest delivers on an ongoing and reliable basis, Lauro says none of it would be possible.
“We’re a very small agency. We have a total annual budget of just over a million dollars. So when you’re serving 400 people every single day, it’s pretty hard on a million dollars,” says Lauro. “If it wasn’t for Second Harvest, I don’t know what we’d do.”
Lauro stresses that the provision of meat is the most critical part of what Second Harvest provides. Unfortunately, food donations tend to drop significantly every year during the spring months, though the need for food, especially protein, doesn’t go away. The Spring Chicken campaign was developed to address this need, and thanks to support from Longo’s supermarkets, we can make sure that agencies like GNC and the people they serve get the food they rely on.
Rosanne Longo, spokesperson and member of the Longo’s family, says given the nature of their business in fresh food, partnering with Second Harvest just makes sense. And with the higher need in the spring for protein, it’s a perfect opportunity to work with Maple Leaf Prime to do something that gives back to the community.
“It’s a good feeling knowing it’s the right thing to do and we’re able to help out,” she says.
Learn more about the Spring Chicken food-raising campaign and how you can support agencies like GNC.
When regular Toronto Taste attendee Leanne Pepper and her husband Tim Belanger were planning their wedding 13 years ago, they didn’t have to think too hard to find the ideal venue for the reception.
“‘This is kind of a no-brainer,’” Leanne recalls thinking. “I wanted to do something completely different and decided that, here we didn’t have to worry about food, about picking a menu, seating plans, music, wine… We didn’t have to worry about any of the details; it was all [at Toronto Taste].”
After a small wedding ceremony at a friend’s nearby home, the newlyweds and their 35 guests moved the celebration to the city’s premier culinary event and Second Harvest’s signature fundraiser, Toronto Taste, for a memorable and unique wedding reception. And every year since, the couple has returned for their wedding anniversary.
“We just love food,” Leanne says of her and Tim, a chef who now teaches at George Brown College. Though she also studied to become a chef, Leanne now works as the General Manager of the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto and as an etiquette and protocol consultant. “Where else can you go and have the best of the city of Toronto under one roof?”
The year of their wedding coincided with the year that many Taste-goers refer to fondly as “The Mud Bowl.” A torrential storm rained down on the open-air event just moments before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, making it a muddy and memorable occasion for chefs, volunteers and guests. Though they had to slop through quite a bit of mud all night, Leanne says it didn’t matter, “because we just had so much fun.”
For those attending Taste for the first time, Leanne offers the following advice. First and foremost, wear expandable clothing. Secondly, pace yourself. “If you’re hungry, you go in and start eating everything in front of you and when you’re halfway through, you realize you can’t do it! So you have to taste a little bit of everything.”
Leanne and Tim will, of course, be attending again this year for their 13th wedding anniversary, June 9 at the Royal Ontario Museum, along with 65 of the city’s finest chefs and 35 celebrated beverage purveyors. Each of their tickets will provide enough funds for Second Harvest to deliver 500 healthy meals to people who are hungry in Toronto.
Last March, a movement began at Arrabon House.
A residential group home for young women aged 13 to 18, the house has offered safe shelter, positive life skills and emotional support in a home-like environment—made possible by food deliveries from Second Harvest—with full-time, round-the-clock staff since it was founded 40 years ago. Since then, the programming has evolved to meet the needs of rising numbers of young women entering the program with mental health issues.
Catherine Ellis-Dobson, assistant director at Arrabon House, says empowerment is a big part of their focus, and this is especially true for those with mental health issues as they work to overcome the stigma and not let it define who they are. But much more still needs to be done.
For the last year, the staff and youth at Arrabon House have been working to realize a vision first put forth by Wendy Curnew, youth worker and community outreach coordinator at the house. That vision was for another, much-needed group home called Her Lighthouse, which would offer long-term housing and an Arrabon House model for women over the age of 18 with mental health issues. It’s a vision that started with one girl.
“This youth was bounced around from shelter to shelter,” says Catherine. “She was nearly abducted.” The problem, she explains, is that once these women age out of the program, they have nowhere to go. “You have to get on a list to get on a list.”
Before Her Lighthouse can become a reality, Arrabon House needs support. That’s the goal of the Stop the Crazy movement, named as such because, “it’s crazy not to talk about mental health.” If the movement can gain momentum, not only will it raise awareness of mental health issues, but it will also provide Arrabon House with the support it needs to realize this vision. Towards this end, they will host their second human chain on May 4, 2013, followed by a festival in Parkdale, BBQ, entertainment and a silent auction at The Sister, among other events all month long.
In the meantime, Arrabon House continues to serve young women in need of ongoing support, each and every day of the year. Thanks to food deliveries from Second Harvest that allow them to run their programming on a limited budget, they can do just that.
Donate now to support agencies like Arrabon House and the youth they serve.
|(L-R) PNC Director Erinn Oxford and Kitchen Coordinator Souad Sharabani.|
On any given Monday, you can find Souad Sharabani leading a team of volunteers as they cook and serve lunch at the Parkdale Neighbourhood Church (PNC) drop-in.
With a love of flavours and exotic aromas developed during her travels as a radio documentary producer, Souad took charge of the kitchen three years ago and has been preparing more flavourful and nutritious dishes ever since.
"Souad is this force of nature," says Erinn Oxford, PNC director. "She's really taken it on and helped us in so many ways."
Two of those dishes (pillau joresh and South African-style squash soup) will be served to Lunch Money Days supporters at the Yonge-Dundas Square Lunchtime Event on Feb. 26.
The lunchtime fare will be prepared and served by her PNC community volunteer team, who regularly participate by helping to prepare the meals that would normally have been served to them. “You see the pride,” Souad says, “the possessing of their own kitchen.”
That team is currently serving up to 140 people from the community every Monday, more than doubling in size over the last few years. Sadly, this growth accompanied a financial crisis that recently forced PNC out of their building, relocating the Monday drop-in to a nearby church. Oxford says they were only able to keep the drop-in going because of deliveries from Second Harvest.
“You have to be creative and you have to use what you have,” Souad says of feeding the growing numbers. “To see these people enjoying it, you can’t understand the reward. Is there anything better than sitting around a table eating good food and sharing it with people?”
PNC plans to add new drop-ins on different days, with Souad and Second Harvest’s support. And thanks to donors who come out to support campaigns like Lunch Money Days, we can be there every step of the way.
Visit Chef Souad’s blog at scentsofmemory.com for recipes, stories from life at PNC and more.
Donate now to support our food rescue and delivery program, and the agencies it serves.
|(L-R) Drake Hotel Hunger Squad members Kayla Rocca, Asia Viera and Esther Jiron with Second Harvest Director of Operations Melissa Dedic.|
The Drake Hotel has been donating surplus baked goods to Second Harvest for years, but it was just recently that this team of employees decided to get more involved. In early February, they formed a Hunger Squad to pick up surplus food on foot and deliver it to SKETCH, a community arts initiative engaging young people experiencing homelessness or living on the margins.
“Supporting our community is a huge part of our culture, so it wasn’t hard to get volunteers to join the Parkdale Hunger Squad,” says Esther Jiron, Drake Hotel Human Resources Coordinator.
“From seeing our staff taking time from their busy schedules and days off to volunteer, to seeing the excitement on the faces of our local donors when we walk through the door and learning about the great work and impact Second Harvest and SKETCH have on our community, it’s been a very rewarding experience to say the least.”
Donate now to support the Hunger Squad program.
Fred* lived with bipolar depression and had spent much time living on the streets of Toronto before arriving at the CMHA Safe Beds Program - a program for individuals living with serious mental illnesses who have involvement with the law.
He was in a depressive episode when he first arrived. He was waiting to enter a program for alcohol dependency and was having difficulty getting out of bed to complete even the most basic daily tasks. He'd go to the food bank to get supplies for cooking, since he didn’t have any money, but he didn’t have the energy or stamina to get there very often. Fred was so thankful when he learned he would receive food every Sunday which would include fresh fruit and vegetables from Second Harvest. He eagerly waited to find out what items he would get, and would later talk about what he had made with the food he had received. He appreciated that he was able to get fruits and vegetables from Second Harvest, which he could not get from food banks. This fresh produce, an important part of a balanced diet, was essential in order for Fred's recovery to be possible. With the food from Second Harvest, Fred was able to meet his basic needs and work towards recovery.
* Not his real name
Maureen owns her own home but she hasn’t had heat or running water for over 5 years and several contractors have ripped her off over the years.
She volunteers her time in the community, while dealing with an adult child who has emotional problems. Maureen shares her wisdom with new and old neighbours at community events where people come to break their isolation and find company around food.
The Davenport-Perth Community Church has been able to help people access food that they might not be able to access otherwise. Fresh vegetables are in short supply in the area's “at risk” community. Many have to travel outside the neighbourhood for cheaper foods, but transportation is very expensive. Fresh food from Second Harvest helps build a sense of community and belonging.
Randall is a gifted musician. He is one of those rare talents that can pick up any instrument and master it within a few days. He plays by ear because he cannot read music - Randall is completely blind. He lives on disabilty and loves to drop in at the Salvation Army - 614 Community Ministries Cafe for the good food they provide thanks to Second Harvest. When Randall's around, there's always music in the air.