Edmonton non-profit looks to open food centre in city's west end

With many services for Edmonton’s homeless and vulnerable population situated downtown and in the city's northeast, a non-profit hopes to bring some help to west Edmonton.

Average income is about 2½ times lower than city average, Food4Good organizer says

Jasper Place Wellness Centre, near 156th Street and Stony Plain Road, is looking into opening a permanent community food centre in west Edmonton for residents struggling to afford nutritional food. Shown is low-cost food market at a community league. (Jasper Place Wellness Centre/Supplied)

With many services for Edmonton's homeless and vulnerable population situated downtown and in the city's northeast, a non-profit hopes to bring some help to west Edmonton.

The Jasper Place Wellness Centre's Food4Good is looking at bringing a community food centre to the west end because organizers feel the need is there.

The group received a $75,000 grant from Community Food Centres Canada to consult the community about the food centre.

"In this area, the average incomes are about 2½ times lower than the city average," Ashley Bouchard, the project manager of Food4Good, told CBC's Radio Active Tuesday.

"There's a pretty high need in the area, but most of the services are concentrated in either the inner city or sometimes in the northeast, so it's a bit underserved."

Bouchard said a community food centre addresses things like access to nutritional food, poor health and social isolation for those living in poverty.

Ashley Bouchard is the wellness centre's Food4Good project manager. (Ashley Bouchard/Supplied)

There are currently eight centres across the country: five in Ontario, one in Nova Scotia, one in Manitoba and one in Calgary.

Bouchard is hoping the ninth will be in Edmonton's west end.

"We see the impact that food insecurity has on physical and mental well-being every day," Bouchard said. "We have a really high proportion of newcomers who are at a higher risk for issues of social isolation."

Not a soup kitchen

The Wellness Centre, which operates near Stony Plain Road and 156th Street, isn't a soup kitchen. The centre is about access to healthy food and offering unique programs for community members.

They already has a few programs in place that are similar to what the community food centre would organize.

There are affordable produce markets twice a month, where the organization sells produce at prices up to half that at grocery stores using donations and bulk buying.

"It's about the food access, but it's also about the sense of belonging and community skills-building and sense of pride in the neighbourhood," Bouchard said.

Kids participate in group cooking at the centre. (Jasper Place Wellness Centre/Supplied)

Surveys of shoppers at the market show that most people who answer experience food insecurity each month, she said.

The market's cheaper prices should mitigate that. The non-profit also buys different types of foods that are staples in other countries and sells them at lower prices.

Plantains, cassava and different types of squashes often appear at the market, "things that people coming from other countries may find difficult to source or difficult to afford here," Bouchard said.

"It can be difficult coming here and not recognizing some of the food or knowing how to prepare it or having things that you're used to."

Food4Good also offers group cooking classes that not only teach people how to make cost-effective meals, but gives participants between 12 and 15 take-home meals.

With the grant, the group plans to consult residents in the area and look for a location that is between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet. They don't have a definite timeline, but Bouchard said she sees a need for it in Edmonton.

"We see a lot of families living with low income," she said. "A lot of folks we see are receiving income from employment, but it's just not enough to cover basic needs.

"It impacts a lot of different people."

Kids enjoy a meal at the wellness centre. (Jasper Place Wellness Centre/Supplied)

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM/740 AM in Edmonton. Follow the show on Twitter: @CBCRadioActive.

With files from Emily Rendell-Watson