Food Insecurity

Restaurants working to support new low-income food centre

New food centre partners with initiative that brings awareness to food insecurity and how to get around it.

Diandra Phipps, Chef and Co-owner of Canteen, tries to be as local with her menu as possible
Diandra Phipps, Chef and Co-owner of enVie, tries to be as local with her menu as possible   Sindi Skenderi

Deborah Dickey hopes for more awareness, more education and more volunteers for the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre after this year’s Restaurants for Change — an initiative that gives proceeds collected by restaurants, to food centres across Canada.

The initiative started one year ago in Halifax, with Chives Bistro on Barrington Street as the only participant. However, it expanded this year, when two more restaurants joined the cause: enVie – A Vegan Kitchen, in Halifax’s North End, and The Canteen, in downtown Dartmouth.

Restaurants for Change happens in 13 cities throughout the country, but this was the first year local restaurants taking part were able to donate their proceeds from one night of dining to a food centre near their community.

The Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, where Dickey is manager, opened in August 2015 and is the sixth food centre in Canada. Being relatively new, the food centre is still working to get the word out and gather more volunteers; so far they have 60.

On average, the centre receives 70 to 85 drop-ins a day for meals, and around 150 to 200 people on Saturday mornings, when they have their low-cost produce market.

The building is lined with windows on one side bringing in natural light. A kitchen on the other side, about the size of half a tennis court, is covered in granite countertops and all-new stainless steel appliances.

Deborah Dickey says the centre does three meals a week, while on the alternating days they do community kitchens, where people come into the community and use the kitchen to cook
Deborah Dickey says the centre does three meals a week, while on the alternating days they do community kitchens, where people come into the community and use the kitchen to cook   Sindi Skenderi

The Dartmouth North Community Food Centre gives its visitors a comforting environment. They can learn to cook and eat healthy, without the discomfort that is too often associated with food insecurity.

Food insecurity is when an individual or family is consistently limited to getting adequate food due to a lack of money and other resources.

“We really wanted a space to be open to anybody through the community and just recognize a high degree of food insecurity throughout the neighbourhood,” said Dickey.

Renée Lavallée agrees.

“[The food centres] are not food banks. These are places where people can feel comfortable. Where they can be educated. Where they can have a really good meal. It’s not stuff that’s donated,” she said.

Lavallée is the chef and owner of The Canteen, one of the restaurants involved, and is the ambassador of Restaurants for Change for the East Coast. She went to Toronto two weeks ago for its media launch and chefs conference.

“I think as chefs our job is to educate people, to help people and we should give back our talent that we’ve accumulated through the years,” said Lavallée.

Lavallée and her team produced a $65 fixed menu for the night, with 100 per cent of the proceeds directed to Restaurants for Change. They had 40 tickets, which sold out in four minutes online. On top of that, the Canteen is donating $1,000 directly to the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre.

George Davis, co-owner of Chives bistro, is not doing a special menu for tonight, but believes his regular menu will bring people in all the same. He believes that dining out is a simple way to give back — “an organic way of making things happen.”

For the night, Chives had 78 customers and more than $3,000 in sales — all going to Restaurants for Change.

Chives tries to use as much local and fresh produce as possible, which Davis believes works to the benefit of Restaurants for Change, since its general mandate is to eat healthy and be cost-effective.

“The thought of ‘buying local is expensive’ is a myth. It’s sometimes cheaper in some ways to buy local produce and cook a healthy meal,” said Davis.

Michael Stack (L), Chives' food Media man/ food lover, and George Davis (R)
Michael Stack (L), Chives’ food Media man/ food lover, and George Davis (R)   Sindi Skenderi

Diandra Phipps, co-owner and chef of enVie’s vegan cuisine, has been promoting the event through social media for the past two weeks.

“We’re asking people to splurge, to raise as much money as possible. So we have folks getting $18 dishes and $24 sharing boards, which is really nice to see,” said Phipps.

EnVie had more than 45 customers through the night and gathered about $1,100 for Restaurants for Change. All three restaurants combined to contribute more than $6,000 for the initiative, which will go a long way in bringing more people into the food centre.

“It’s sort of the grassroots for the community,” said Stephen Donnelly, a customer at Chives for the night.

He believes that keeping the proceeds local will make a huge impact in the number of people this will attract in the future.

“It’s important. It has to be in the community that it’s helping,” he said.

“The upside is some of these people could eventually just become direct donors. So this community food centre could be a situation where they could want to keep supporting that, maybe give a donation every month,” said Davis.