The Neighbourhood Kitchen Fund, made possible by partners BMO and Medavie, was announced in late 2019. The hope was to get it off the ground quickly, bringing people together over healthy foods in kitchens across HRM. But COVID-19 had other plans.
As 2020 was drawing to a close, however, a team of volunteers started meeting to design a funding application for this unique fund. With experience in commercial kitchens and construction, their expertise was welcomed.
Foundation of a neighbourhood
“If you wake up and you have a full belly, you’re safe and you’re loved, you’re at your best,” says Lil McPherson, a local restaurant owner and community volunteer who is passionate about bringing good food to people.
“Local food, cooking together and breaking bread together, that’s the foundation of a neighbourhood. It’s the stuff that fills souls.”
This philosophy, along with her experience in designing commercial kitchens from the ground up, made Lil a perfect addition to the volunteer team who designed the proposal process for the fund. Lil notes that the design team hit it off immediately, with a great mix of backgrounds and skills around the table.
“I have restaurant experience, we had someone with construction experience, non-profit experience and budgeting.” The team wanted to make sure that non-profit organizations applying for funding understood the challenges they might come up against so they could be prepared.
“The folks applying for funding are community leaders and volunteers,” says Lil. “When renovating a kitchen, there’s always unexpected costs. When you rip down a wall, you never know what you’re going to find.”
Lil and others made themselves available for neighbourhood organizations to ask questions and really think about the potential for their space. “We wanted people to see the possibilities of a commercial kitchen, not only for feeding community, but for social enterprise or new small businesses.”
When it came to assessing the proposals, Lil speaks of the “pure excitement” she and other volunteers had for the projects. “We could see where the ripple effects of one project could impact hundreds of people in the neighbourhood.”
One neighbourhood that will benefit is North Dartmouth. As an established neighbourhood kitchen and gathering space, The North Grove has welcomed hundreds of people from across the community to enjoy meals, garden at their farm, volunteer, build skills and connect. They are an important hub in the community, bringing people together to understand local issues, share resources and just enjoy the company of others.
It is also one of the organizations that will soon complete their Neighbourhood Kitchen Fund project. While staff and volunteers were already enjoying the success of bringing people together over food, they were serving more people than their equipment was designed for. Often The North Grove was hosting big community meals. “Coming together around food is something that just about everyone is interested in doing,” says Deborah Dickey, the food centre manager.
“It doesn’t matter your walk of life or your circumstances.”
Equity in the dish pit
But a big community meal means a big pile of dishes. The dishwasher at The North Grove wasn’t cutting it. “The volume of dishes is more than it can handle. We run out of hot water quickly, and this means staff and volunteers wait for the water to heat up. It’s just inefficient.”
Deborah also points out that their participants and volunteers include people who are older or have mobility issues. The commercial dishwasher they originally installed is at floor level, and the heavy racks of dishes needed to be lifted so they can be loaded in and out.
“We try to structure our programs so that everyone has a chance to do a different part of the process. If someone has a lot of limitations, they can’t safely lift the heavy racks and they miss out on that opportunity to participate.”
While an upgraded dishwasher may not sound glamorous, it will make a big difference in the shared experience. “What we’ve learned is that some of the biggest impacts are the social impacts,” says Deborah. “We see the change in people’s mental health and people’s well-being when they get to know their neighbours in a different way.”
large-scale projects funded
small-scale projects funded
volunteers supported the process