Dan Rankin, for the Gazette
Hundreds of local residents broke bread at the ribbon-cutting for the Local Community Food Centre last Thursday evening – flat bread pitas with a choice of lamb shawarma or sweet potato falafel, to be exact.
Americans gathered with their families for Thanksgiving weren’t the only ones giving thanks that night, said food centre director Steve Stacey, in the first of a number of speeches offering thanks and congratulations to everyone involved in bringing the 612 Erie St. complex to fruition.
“We have this amazing vision that this will be a wonderful place for people to come and work together, make great food together, and then come to this great dining room where they can then enjoy it together,” he said. “It’s such a privilege to be able to connect our community members with this kind of an opportunity.”
Some of the programs planned for the centre’s spacious kitchen and dining room that have either already begun or will be starting up in the new year include seniors lunches, community breakfasts and dinners, educational cooking sessions and after-school programs in the centre’s greenhouse. It will also serve as a distribution centre for Perth County food banks and host activism and advocacy programs to raise awareness in the community on issues such as poverty and hunger.
“We’re looking forward to how this is going to make a difference in our community,” said Ryan Erb, executive director of United Way Perth-Huron. “We expect that we are going to make a difference in terms of providing fresh, healthy, local food.”
“Your meeting and dining room, your kitchen and gardening area and your educational programming will make a difference, and show you’re putting Trillium support to good use,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, highlighting the $447,000 grant from the Trillium Foundation for two pilot food centres in Stratford and the town of Perth in eastern Ontario.
Nick Saul, president and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, said Stratford was selected as the location for one of the first such centres in the province outside of Toronto because of factors like the area’s rich agricultural history, the Stratford Chefs School and Paul Finkelstein’s culinary arts class at Northwestern.
Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson also touched on the positive impact the food centre will have on Stratford and Perth County.
“It’s more important than ever that, as we talk about innovation in this community, community and social development is just as important as economic development,” he said.
Following the ribbon cutting – when the assembled crowd got a taste of the dinner prepared by chef Jordan Lassaline and began conversing around the centre’s spacious dining room – the vision Saul described for a national network of community food centres already seemed to be taking shape.
“To create community change you have to have a sense of hope and self worth,” he said. “I think people are going to feel that here.”