Dartmouth North family and food centres one step closer to uniting

‘The food centre, the family centre—they change lives,’ said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage

Supporters of a Dartmouth community organization broke into applause at city hall Tuesday after council unanimously voted to back their campaign to operate under one roof.

The $80,000 contributed by the city will be put towards the ongoing “One Roof” campaign that will bring the Dartmouth Family Centre and Dartmouth North Community Food Centre together. Though under one umbrella, they currently operate in two separate locations.

Wendy Fraser, executive director of the two centres, was at council for the vote along with a number of her colleagues. She said it feels “fantastic” to receive this support from the city.

“To have the entire council unanimously support it really showed their recognition that while we are situated in Dartmouth North, we really provide service for all of HRM,” said Fraser.

Last September, the provincial government announced it would provide $100,000 to help the Dartmouth Family Centre on Albro Lake Road move to the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre location on Primrose Street.

The family centre has operated for 25 years in one of the city’s most challenged communities, where one in two children live in low-income households. According to its website, the centre offers a variety of free programs including workshops in parenting and child development.

The food centre opened in 2015, providing free community meals, cooking classes, and access to a community garden.

The Dartmouth Family Centre and Dartmouth North Community Food Centre are coming together under one roof. “We’re making a difference in people’s lives, but we’re also saving lives.”   Alix Bruch

There will be a number of benefits having both centres under one roof, but the major improvement will be accessibility for all. The current Dartmouth Family Centre is two storeys, and although there is a ramp to the first floor to accommodate people with mobility issues, much of the space is inaccessible.

Fraser said it is incredibly important that the organization is accessible for the entire community. By bringing the family centre and food centre together, she hopes additional barriers will be removed.

“Families who come here for programming are less likely to go over for the market or for a community meal because they have to bundle the kids all up again,” said Fraser.

“It’s only two blocks away, but it’s a lengthy two blocks if you’ve got a toddler.”

Coun. Tony Mancini said council’s decision is exciting and he feels the community deserves the support it has received. Mancini, the Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East councillor, views the expansion and unification of the centres as a positive step for the community.

“People come in, they learn about parenting, they learn about healthy eating, but everyone considers the place theirs. It is their place. It is remarkable,” said Mancini following the vote.

“I think Coun. Austin said it well: ‘We’re making a difference in people’s lives, but we’re also saving lives.’”

According to their 2018-19 impact report, the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre served 27,480 healthy meals over the course of a year.   Alix Bruch

Don Clarke volunteers at the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre as a peer advocate. The first time he walked into the building was during a community meal. He recalls feeling moved by the level of respect that was shown to visitors from the moment he walked through the doors.

“When I walked in during a lunch, and they were laying a plate of food in front of people — I’ve never seen that in any of the places that I’ve volunteered,” said Clarke.

“That’s just a little thing that adds so much dignity because folks don’t often get served.”

As a peer advocate, Clarke’s main role is to talk to people. By interacting with residents of the community, he is able to find out what struggles they are facing and how the centre can best provide support. Clarke will help people find resources and deal with issues like accessing social insurance and affordable housing.

“In their life, there are barriers and more barriers,” said Clarke.

“And I feel good if I can drop a few of those barriers and help them out.”

Fraser said the Dartmouth Family Centre and Dartmouth North Community Food Centre are working hard to support families, improve health, and provide social support. Construction at the food centre is expected to be completed around the end of March, which will be followed by construction of a play area in the outdoor farm.

“This isn’t just giving out money,” said Savage during council on Tuesday.

“This is helping community learn and grow together.”

 

With files from Sam Gillett

Alix Bruch

Alix Bruch

Alix is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She left a career in geology to play soccer professionally in Europe, before settling into the world of writing. She loves literary journalism and telling stories about women in sport.

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