This kitchen builds community

If you ask Danielle McIntyre, kitchens are about way more than the food that comes out of them. They’re a place where people from all walks of life can come together, bond, feel empowered and learn life-changing skills. Most of all, a good kitchen builds community.

McIntyre serves as the executive director for Interfaith Food Bank in Lethbridge, Alberta. The organization first opened its doors in 1989 and has been serving up cooking and nutrition classes for local adults and youth as part of its Community Kitchen programming since 2005.

“As a Food Bank, we’ve grown to include not just that ‘hand out’ in terms of the food hampers, but a ‘hand up’ by empowering families with the skills to provide for their own food security,” she says. “I always say that we’re more than a food bank– we’re a learning centre.”

Right now, Interfaith Food Bank is adding a second, much larger kitchen to accommodate more programming. Farm Credit Canada has partnered with the Food Bank, providing $20,000 through the FCC AgriSpirit Fund toward the purchase of new kitchen cabinets that can be used as additional food prep surfaces.

The Community Kitchen’s cooking programs target low income families, single parents, the underemployed and the unemployed. Many participants have disabilities that prevent them from finding stable work. 

McIntyre says the Interfaith Food Bank’s Community Kitchen classes are about meeting people where they’re at – whether they’ve never chopped veggies with a knife, or they want to learn how to prepare healthier meals on a limited budget.

“We know that good food is expensive. And that’s the barrier that a lot of our low-income families face,” says McIntyre. “It’s cheap and easy to grab a can of soup or Kraft Dinner, but it’s so much better to cook with whole foods and eat balanced meals.” 

For 36-year-old Tracy, a single mom and avid cooking class attendee, the Community Kitchen provides her with an important social outlet.   

“It’s just an awesome atmosphere. I’ve been coming for about three years now and really haven’t missed any classes,” she says. “I believe that the kitchen program is for everyone and benefits all walks of life – it’s a must-have in our community.”

Interfaith Food Bank offered 336 adult cooking sessions last year to nearly 1,500 people, including 70 to 80 participants from neighbouring rural municipalities.

“Because Lethbridge is a central hub for Southern Alberta, we have several people from the surrounding area that use our services because there is no food bank in their rural communities,” explains McIntyre.

She points out that anyone attending the cooking classes can take home any food they make, which feeds additional people, including husbands, wives and children. McIntyre estimates about 6,200 people eat out of the Community Kitchen each year – and that number is expected to grow as the Food Bank expands its programming.

According to McIntyre, the new and expanded Community Kitchen will also serve as a large, 3,100 square foot multi-purpose space with a capacity of 100 people.

“We’ll be able to tailor and adapt the kitchen according to whatever program is running, whether it be cooking classes, food fitness programs, seniors’ groups or even volunteer appreciation events,” she says.

“FCC’s support through the AgriSpirit Fund means more to us than new kitchen cabinets – it’s helping create a space at Interfaith Food Bank where community groups can truly come together,” she says. “And when we’re working with people through our programming, we get to know them, provide cooking skills, then work with our partners to meet their wider, underlying needs. But it’s all based off building that sense of community in the kitchen.”

Article by: Joey Sabljic