Toronto

Raptor Serge Ibaka used to go hungry, now he's giving back in Regent Park

A special guest made an appearance at the weekly "Taste of Regent Park" event Wednesday. The Serge Ibaka Foundation partnered with the Regent Park Community Food Centre to provide thousands of free meals to the community.

The Serge Ibaka Foundation's donation will provide thousands of meals through a drop-in meal program

Serge Ibaka opens up about why access to healthy food is important to him in an interview with CBC Toronto. (Talia Ricci/CBC )

Serge Ibaka might love food just as much as he loves basketball.

On Wednesday the Raptors player made a special appearance at Regent Park Community Food Centre's 'Taste of Regent Park.' This year his charity partnered with the centre in an effort to alleviate hunger in the neighbourhood. 

Ibaka is known for his love of cooking through his Youtube channel 'How Hungry Are You?' But his passion for food stems from his personal story growing up in Congo.

"It's from my past experience, where I come from," Ibaka said. 

"I lost my mom when I was seven, and at some point in my life having food it was like a big deal for me because it was not every day."

Now he says he wants to give back, and felt what he wants to accomplish with the Serge Ibaka Foundation aligned with what  Regent Park Community Food Centre stands for — access to fresh food for everyone.

Serge Ibaka served hundreds of residents at the weekly Taste of Regent Park event. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"I wanted to partner with them because of the way they work and the food they serve for kids," he said.

The partnership — dubbed Fast Break Meals — included a donation from Ibaka's foundation to support the centre's drop-in meal program. The contribution will amount to thousands of free meals for people who need them. 

Prior to serving a jerk chicken meal at Taste of Regent Park, Ibaka spent time with kids shooting hoops and encouraging them to chase their dreams. 

"One of the most important things I want to see is smiles on kids faces," said the Raptors centre.

'What a surprise'

Joshua Kalalang was certainly smiling. He didn't initially know the Raptor would be volunteering Wednesday and said he became a bit star struck.

Joshua Kalalang holds the meal being served at Taste of Regent Park which happens every Wednesday until the end of August. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

"My mom told me 'did you know Serge Ibaka was coming?' And I said WOW! what a surprise!" Kalalang said he was "really nervous" when Ibaka plated his meal.

Other programming at Regent Park Community Food Centre includes culinary skills training, urban gardens and advocacy programs that help connect people facing poverty with helpful resources.

'He gets what we're doing here'

Mark Woodnutt of the Regent Park Community Food Centre said the collaboration with Ibaka's foundation was the perfect fit.

"He knows about food insecurity from a really personal place," he said.

"It means that he kind of gets what we're doing here in Regent Park and it makes it more meaningful for us."

Serge Ibaka says one of his favourite parts of volunteering is seeing kids smile. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Woodnutt said it was special having Ibaka serve at the weekly event, which brings the community together through food, music and a film when the sun goes down. 

"They usually leave with full bellies and smiles on their faces."

Woodnutt says access to healthy nutritious food is needed in the Regent Park neighbourhood, where many people face food insecurity.

Mark Woodnutt, a manager at CRC Regent Park Community Food Centre, said the event helps bring the community together. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

And for Ibaka, the program is an opportunity to inspire young people and change the way people think about poverty.

"When I think about power, it's not about having money," he said.

"It's about changing people's lives, changing people's moods. To me, it's a blessing to have that power."

About the Author

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She's from Guelph and has also reported in London and Winnipeg. From the Middle East to West Africa, Talia has travelled around the globe volunteering and photographing. She enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find Talia creating recipes for her plant based food blog.

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