"It's the gift that keeps on giving." Charmaine, a Stonegate resident and single mother of three, isn't talking about the latest toy on holiday shelves, but a box overflowing with fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. She is one of hundreds of recipients of Stonegate Community Health Centre's Good Food Box Holiday Drive. The Drive, now in its seventh year, provides a Good Food Box to community individuals and families struggling to put healthy food on the table.
Charmaine prepares the produce in a myriad of ways, including cut up fruits for snacks, vegetable dishes and delicious soups. With the opportunity to demonstrate healthy cooking to her young children, she says the box "makes a world of difference".
The Good Food Box is a non-profit fresh fruit and vegetable system operated by FoodShare, Toronto. FoodShare buys produce directly from the Ontario Food Terminal and Ontario farmers and distributes to dropoff locations throughout the city. Stonegate CHC, located in the Park Lawn/Queensway neighbourhood, is one of the busiest, says Julia Graham, Community Food Program Coordinator at the Centre.
With an estimated 28% of families and 38% of children living below the poverty line in the area immediately surrounding the Centre, food security is a major concern. The Centre's health team identifies families whose health is being jeopardized by poor access to healthy food. "Given the cost of rent, people living on social assistance or working a lower wage job often have no money left over for food," says Graham.
When the program began, 80 clients were referred to receive a Good Food Box. Last year the number grew to almost 300. In 2014, residents lost their last walkable access to food with the demolition of Stonegate Plaza to make way for a condominium development. While Stonegate CHC provides resources including a mobile food market and organized bus trips to a grocery store, these measures don't fill the gap. Many community members rely on the 3 times a month Food Bank at Christ Church St. James.
Thanks to generous donors, the fundraising goal has been met and exceeded each year. 300 boxes will be distributed to Stonegate CHC clients as well as clients of the local Food Bank. Any additional funds raised will be put towards 'market bucks' for food insecure clients at the Centre-run Farmer's Market. "100% of donations go towards providing fresh healthy food for those in need," says Graham.
$18 buys a local family in need a large size Good Food box, $50 buys boxes for three families, while $100 buys boxes for 6 families. Donations can be made by contacting Julia Graham at 416.231.7070 ext. 229 or online.