Low-income Calgarians will soon be able to break bread in a very unique environment.
Calgary's first "community food centre" is under construction in the old Whitespot restaurant along 17th Ave. S.E. in Forest Lawn.
The Community Food Centre takes the idea of feeding those in need beyond handing out food hampers. At the heart of the building will be a large kitchen, run by a professionally trained chef, where people can gather to create community meals and to learn cooking and nutrition skills.
The facility, run by The Alex Community Health Centre in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada, will be the only one of its kind west of Winnipeg.
"Emergency food programs are absolutely critical and we know they're necessary. The community food centre is a really a neighbourhood scaled approach. And that's kind of the difference," said Renee MacKillop, project manager with the Alex.
More than 500,000 people in Calgary accessed food programs in 2014.
"There'll be a dining space for people to share healthy meals together. There will be a garden where people can learn and share gardening skills and grow the food that we can also prepare and enjoy in the kitchen," said MacKillop.
Organizers hope to source as much food as possible from local farmers. And, as Calgary struggles during the economic downturn, they recognize the timeliness of their project.
"We know now more than ever there's an urgency around meeting people's basic needs and having good foods to share with our families," said MacKillop.
Kristen Lien, principal architect with Research and Design Architecture, said she was sold on the idea after visiting community food centres in Toronto. Her firm is designing the space pro bono.
"It's evident that they're making a real impact every day. And what we're able to bring to the table is to make a beautiful space," Lien said.
The Alex is asking for input from Calgarians about what services they'd like to see included. The Community Food Centre is expected to open this summer.