Metro Morning

The Essentials Market is a different take on the food bank

The Essentials Market more resembles a grocery store than a place where food is doled out to the disadvantaged.

Grocery-style food bank attempts to break stigma against getting help

There are shelves at The Essentials Market, as opposed to boxes of goods handed out. (Toronto People with Aids Foundation)

Toronto People with Aids Foundation food bank has seen client usage double since 2009.

The organization blames rising food and living costs, but also credits its unique style of delivering food to those who need it. The food bank, located at Gerrard Street and Sherbourne Street, is called The Essentials Market.

It looks more like a grocery store than a place where food is doled out to the disadvantaged.

"We moved away from the food-bank model where they'd get a box," said Suzanne Paddock, the P.W.A's director of programs and services. "It's more of a food-market model where clients can choose their own food from the shelves on aisles."

The volunteer-run market allows participants to come twice a month at set times, and you have to be pre-approved to use it. The Essentials Market has become a hub of the community. 

"It's more empowering to be able to choose food rather than being given a box," said Paddock. She said choosing your own groceries reduces the stigma  and "makes it a positive experience" and "a welcome and healing space" for its clients, who are mostly gay white men between the ages of 40 and 55.

Kyle Vose is both a client at the food bank and volunteers as a health education worker. He said the market style makes a difference. 

"If you're given a basket of food, you can't say no. Someone is giving you something," he said. "There's a huge stigma. I tell my story in public so that people will lose stigma and get help." 

At the market, he said, people are treated with respect and dignity, greeted by volunteers with name tags and offered assistance. 

He agreed thereès a community vibe there, too, likening it to the TV show, Cheers.

"I see clients on street, and they say 'hi,'" he said. "You never feel alone. You're part of the community."

On Friday, December 4th, CBC will be supporting the work of food banks across the city with our annual CBC Sounds of the Season broadcast. That's a full day of programming at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre. Please join us and help if you can. A food or cash donation would make a real difference to this city's food bank clients. For more information about what's in store, see here.

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