Wednesday, November 25, 2020
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Sister Gwen Smith on Food Security

Since 1992, the United Nations has recognized October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day to reflect upon poverty and promote awareness of how it affects others. 

In Toronto-Danforth, where I live and minister, one of the biggest concerns for individuals with low incomes is food security. The United Nations defines this as "when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.” 
Stats Canada recognizes that the absence of food security has become a public health issue. As the Ministry Director for Mustard Seed, a ministry of Fontbonne Ministries, a community gathering space in South Riverdale, I find that food is a core element in how we extend our hospitality. I constantly see the absence of food causing tangible harm. 
I have seen one guest at Mustard Seed come in needing to replace her lost hearing aids, forced to choose between buying groceries or being able to hear. Sister Rosemary McGinn, who has offered foot care at Mustard Seed, has seen callouses and corns on her clients' feet; these result from constantly walking in second-hand shoes to free meals at locations spread out across the city. 
While food banks provide assistance, their items often lack sufficient protein and vitamins and some guests at Mustard Seed struggle with diabetes and allergies which food banks cannot accommodate. 
There is some relief to be found in the neighbourhood. The Riverdale Food Working Group started community garden programs in which people with low incomes can grow their own fruits and vegetables on rooftops, balconies and other spaces such as the garden here at Mustard Seed. We will also be working with FoodShare Toronto to offer a weekly, low cost fruit and vegetable market.
The amount of wasted food in our country shocks me. The average Canadian wastes 873 pounds of food a year, something I reflect upon when working with two organizations, Food Rescue and Not Far From the Table. They often send us food that would otherwise be thrown away. It astonishes me that fresh, healthy produce is rejected by grocers for being blemished or oddly shaped and is generally sent to the compost bin when it could feed so many in need.
We use these generous donations to provide snacks in all our programs and to offer nutritious meals at our Drop-Ins and our Community Kitchen program. For $10 a month, Community Kitchen participants cook an evening meal in the Mustard Seed kitchen. Together, they create a healthy, three course meal and learn how to buy and cook food that is cost-effective and sustaining.
A friend of Mustard Seed, Weldon, often brings us bread from generous bakeries. We are always sure to have bread on hand to offer guests to eat immediately or take home; we know that for many, one loaf may serve as a morning meal for the next several days. 
I long for the Government of Ontario to adopt our Mustard Seed motto of "delicious, nutritious, affordable food in community" and to combat poverty by lending greater efforts to food relief for those who are suffering.


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