Food helps abused women start healing at Kitchener's Anselma House

Food can bring a family together, and that's true for women and children who seek help from emergency shelters in Waterloo region. Staff at Anselma House in Kitchener say they 'couldn’t feed our women and kids’ without The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

Shelter ‘couldn’t feed our women and kids’ without The Food Bank of Waterloo Region

Anselma House in Kitchener has 45 beds for women and children fleeing abusive homes. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A mom sits down at a brown table with her two children and she smiles at them as they begin to eat a snack.

It's a scene that could happen in any home in Waterloo region — but at this particular moment, it's happening at Anselma House in Kitchener, an emergency shelter for women escaping violent or abusive partners.

Much of the shelter's food comes from The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. 

"We couldn't feed our women and kids without them. Not at all," Merle Fast, manager with Women's Crisis Services, said as she gave CBC K-W a tour of the facility.

"It's not just pork and beans and mac and cheese, it's fresh things," Fast was quick to note. She has seen orange juice, strawberries, corn on the cob and milk — many items that are expensive and difficult to afford on the shelter's limited budget. 

Merle Fast is a manager with Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. She manages the residential program at Haven House in Cambridge and helps run Anselma House in Kitchener. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

More than 384,000 meals

The shelter provides three meals a day for the women and children. The women make their own breakfast and lunch with the items they find in the kitchen and then a hot dinner is cooked in the shelter's commercial kitchen.

That's three meals a day, every day of the year.

More than 384,000 meals were served in facilities like Anselma House across the region last year. The number includes food for community meal programs and shelter and residential programs, said Wendi Campbell, executive director of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

"If we added the community meal numbers and the food hamper numbers, just sort of imagine the amount of food that is required to ensure that our community is fed and is staying healthy." 

Kitchen is 'where life happens'

Fast said she remembers one woman who came to the shelter and offered to make a meal from her home country for everyone. 

You see moms and kids being able to sit together and eat as a little family.- Merle Fast, Anselma House

Another woman at first was hesitant to make anything herself. Over time, the staff learned she knew how to cook, but the partner she had left would always yell at her for not cooking things correctly, so she was hesitant to do anything in the kitchen.

Once she realized she could cook without fear, she was a regular in the kitchen.

The dining room has tables that can be rearranged based on how intimate you want your meals to be, and the women will eat together. Sometimes they bake cookies and share them.

"When I think of my kitchen, that's kind of where life happens. The family does its thing in the kitchen and dining room and that's the very same thing in a shelter," Fast said.

The women and children who stay at Anselma House have access to a kitchen where they can prepare their own food. There are ovens and stovetops if they want to cook or bake and cupboards full of food, much of it provided by The Food Bank of Waterloo Region. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Eat as a family

As they connect with other women and children in the shelter, they realize they're not alone.

"They say, 'Man, somebody really cares about us.' That's one of the goose-bumpy ones for me," she said.

Fast said kids can go to school with good lunches and people don't have to worry if they'll have food on the table the next day.

"You see moms and kids being able to sit together and eat as a little family."

As the women get back on their feet and move out of the shelter, the food bank continues to be there for them, Campbell said, to help them in times of transition "while they're getting jobs, while they're getting improved incomes to be able to meet their own needs and to feed their families."

She said low income continues to be one of the root causes of food insecurity.

For Fast, she knows the food they're able to provide goes a long way to begin the healing for the women and children who turn to the shelter.

"Food speaks to something deep in people," she said, adding the women are safe in knowing, "Okay, I've got good food and a good place. Yeah, that's good."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.