December 1st, 2016 Staff
For almost 25 years, ArtHeart has been an anchor for both children and adults in the Regent Park community. The centre provides an oasis for art and learning in a supportive environment in which everyone can create and learn, build self-esteem and develop life skills.
Materials are always free and everyone from children to seniors, singles to families are welcome to join the activities or spend time creating in the studio. And everyone who stops by is always given healthy food to eat.
“At our after-school drop-in program we serve a healthy snack to all of the children and we have an adult art program two days a week where we serve a healthy lunch and a healthy dinner so that there are no starving artists. You can’t do art on an empty belly,” says Tim Svirklys, the Studio Manager at ArtHeart. “Nobody gets turned away. If you come and the room is at capacity, we’ll give you a takeout tray with food because a lot of the adults come here not just to do art but because they know they can get a good, healthy meal.”
Before every program, workshop or drop-in hour, Tim prepares the hot meal or snacks with fresh food delivered by Second Harvest.
“Having food in your system frees you, you’re not as focused on your physical needs and you’re able to create. It’s a lot easier to create on a full stomach.”
“Our food budget is minimal. We depend on Second Harvest for fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh or frozen proteins, like meat,” says Tim.
“We wouldn’t have much of a food program without Second Harvest. People would still be fed, but they wouldn’t be nearly as well fed,” adds Judy Fournier, the Exective Director at ArtHeart.
Tim always cooks more than enough food so that everyone leaves with a full belly and there are always leftovers to go.
“It’s probably the only time in the week that I get to eat meat,” says Cheryl, an ArtHeart regular for the last year. “There are times when I have no money and very little food so it is nice that when I come here, I’m guaranteed to have a meal.”
Cheryl credits the program with helping her gain confidence in her artistic abilities and she even held her own art show earlier this year. “Having food in your system frees you, you’re not as focused on your physical needs and you’re able to create. It’s a lot easier to create on a full stomach.”
Two brothers also credit ArtHeart with helping them to get on their feet, says Judy. The twin boys recently participated in ArtHeart’s employment program for at-risk youth where, among other things, they received their Safe Food Handler certificates. They now both have steady jobs at fast food restaurants.
Because food is such an integral part of the program, ArtHeart is always open on Christmas Day to serve a big Christmas dinner. “A lot of our adults here are living with a disability. Some are living on the streets or in shelters. We give them a place to go where they have a sense of family.
“Food is a big part of what we do here,” says Tim. It really brings us together as a community and as a family and it fills a real need in the city.”
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