Community kitchen offers cooking and gardening programs to low-income earners

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WatchThe Shelbourne Community Kitchen weekly volunteer numbers before the pandemic were around 70 to 75 people a week but dropped to around 16. But as Veronica Cooper explains, the kitchen, which provides cooking and gardening classes to low-income earners, has had others step up and help during these difficult times.

On a street in Saanich sits a modest home that gives low-income earners an opportunity to learn how to cook and grow healthy foods.

“The Shelbourne Community Kitchen is basically a neighbourhood food centre,” says program coordinator Kim Cummings. “We work together with folks that are living with low income. It’s all about creating opportunities together to cook, grow, share, and connect for improved health and wellbeing.”

Founded in March 2015, the Shelbourne Community Kitchen supports about 320 people every month by offering gardening and cooking programs. The kitchen’s existence is the result of a collaborative effort between three Shel­bourne Valley churches – St. Luke’s Anglican, St. Aidan’s United, and Lutheran Church of the Cross – and the Mount Tolmie Community Association and Camosun Community Association.

The groups were able to convert a modest home in Saanich into a food centre that offers cooking programs for people with low-incomes.

“We’re offering a ton of different cooking programs, where people can come together and prepare and share meals together” says Cummings.

The Shelbourne Community Kitchen also manages garden sites, where people can learn how to grow food.

“We manage garden sites where people can learn to grow as much food as they can in the space and resources they have available, and we offer food distribution through our pantry program,” explains Cummings.

They run a food distribution service.

“We offer everything from fresh produce and eggs to different staple foods, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. It’s a really well-rounded balance,” says Cummings.

In fact, the modest Saanich home’s entire backyard has been transformed into an edible garden, where they grow everything from green beans to kale.

“Green beans, spring onions, garlic, tomatoes, kale, a lot of kale, and a lot of lettuce,” says lead gardener Bruce Saunders. “There’s a big need for fresh vegetables for people that are getting food through the kitchen here.”

Kimberly Urysz-Valade is grateful for the support and services offered by the Shelbourne Community Kitchen.

“Well, they are a lifesaver for me,” says Urysz-Valade. “I’ve been going through some illnesses, and they’ve been there to save me in time of need.”

“Everybody’s so, so nice, and I like the fact that I can just go in there to the pantry and pick what I need.”

As with just about every other community organization, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge challenge for the Shelbourne Community Kitchen.

Cummings says the kitchen’s weekly volunteer numbers before the pandemic were around 70 to 75 people a week but dropped to around 16.

“Many of our volunteers are seniors and we wanted to make sure that they were staying home, and staying safe,” Cummings says.

But as the volunteer numbers declined, others stepped up to help.

“Luckily enough, we had this wonderful wave of people from the food-service industry who were out of work, who came out and were lending a hand,” says Cummings, adding that they even had teachers from St. Michael’s University School come and volunteer.

The Shelbourne Community Kitchen was also lucky enough to receive $20,000 from the Victoria Foundation’s Rapid Relief Fund. Cummings says the money came at the perfect time.

“The funding that we received from the Rapid Relief Fund was so perfectly timed, and so incredibly helpful,” says Cummings.  “When COVID hit, it was when we were just about to launch some of our fundraising events. The donation allowed us to purchase food that we would typically receive through food drives but were unable.”

The relief fund money also helped the kitchen pay for tech-related services, allowing volunteers and organizers to stay connected amid the pandemic.

“It also helped out with little things like Zoom accounts and extra phone lines to be able to help our committees and our teams still connect and do the work that we have to do while we’re all staying home and staying safe,” adds Cummings.

The pandemic, however, has also meant the kitchen is seeing a rise in the number of people relying on the kitchen.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase in our numbers since the pandemic began,” Cummings admits. “I think at this point we’ve got at least another 150 to 175 registrants, and the number continues to climb.”

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