Healthy Food is the Thread That Weaves Women’s Organization Together

It’s nearly closing time at Sistering, yet dozens of women are scattered around the dining room. Many are still finishing their lunch, savouring every last bite of vegetarian chilli, rice, fresh salad and soup.France, a Sistering client, looks around as she explains how she has sat among these women many times over the past 20 years.

After coming to Toronto from Winnipeg, France found herself with an accounting job and was doing well for herself until the recession of the early 1990s hit. France lost her job and was struggling to get back on her feet when she first came to Sistering in 1992.

“At that time, people told me if I needed help with food, I should go to Sistering and they would give me a nice, healthy meal. The food is what got me in the door,” says France. “I was so grateful for the food. Not just food, but a hot meal.”

It took several years but France once again found a stable job, until yet another economic slowdown hit and she found herself unemployed again and unsure of where to turn.

That’s when she remembered the support she received at Sistering.

“At Sistering, I could always get good food in my stomach and then I would think ‘okay, I can face the day.’ If you have nothing, then your spirit drops, you feel tired and you’re not motivated to do anything. Food is so important – it nourishes everything,” says France.

“Food is the connector because most women first come for a meal; from there we help address other problems they may be experiencing.”

A non-profit organization that helps some of the most marginalized women in Toronto, Sistering is located on Bloor Street West, and has been offering programs and services to women since 1980. In September, it will become the west-end’s sole 24/7 women’s drop-in location. The thread that weaves the entire organization together is food. Food is what brings about 275 women through its doors every day.

“Food is the connector because most women first come for a meal; from there we help address other problems they may be experiencing,” says Trisha Bear, Food Coordinator at Sistering, explaining that programs and services include skills-based training and ESL courses, laundry facilities, massage clinics, yoga, textile and jewellery workshops.

Lining the walls at Sistering are vibrant drawings, paintings and textiles, crafted by women who have come and gone since the organization’s inception 34 years ago.

“Sistering changes people’s lives, helps people, and gives them a community,” says Trisha.

The nutritious meals that Trisha plans, prepares and serves every day are possible because of the fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and meat delivered regularly by Second Harvest.

Sistering was one of Second Harvest’s first agencies when it began rescuing food 30 years ago.

“Without the food we receive from Second Harvest, we would be in serious trouble,” says France. “The fresh food they provide us with gives us the nutrients we need to feel good and to thrive.”

France gives back to Sistering for all the organization has done to help her by acting as board treasurer. And she’s currently working towards starting her own business after gaining confidence and support at Sistering.

“The food at Sistering is what got me through the door. But it is Sistering that gave me the confidence.”