Community,  Food + Drink,  History + Community,  Wellness

The Many Facets of Food Rescue at Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre

Bridget Marzin’s job is to rescue food. 

As the Food Security Worker at Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre, located in surburbia just off the Danforth, Marzin oversees dozens of volunteers and hundreds of food bank participants. Every day, she looks for new opportunities to reduce waste, rescue food, and secure donations to provide better food access for the Danforth community.

Eastview Centre’s food bank runs on Tuesdays from noon to 2 p.m., when they serve households of one or two people, and again on Thursdays at the same time, when they serve households of three or more.

“I don’t think anyone has the right to say who can and cannot [access food banks]” Marzin stated, and so there are no entry requirements for food bank participants.

Most are from the local area, but others arrive from all over Toronto, and everyone leaves with hampers of produce and protein and grains.

Sign outside Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre. It has the Centre's logo, and also the message "Celebrate Creating Community With Us!"
Photo by Marie-Jade Charest

In alignment with their dedication to inclusivity, Eastview prioritizes collecting and distributing perishable foods, which can be used in a wide range of recipes and promote healthier eating. Eastview also publishes Food Bank Foodies, a collection of pamphlets containing recipes that help  visitors find creative ways to use the ingredients they take from the food bank. “It’s just great… Creating that positivity for them, because coming to a food bank, there’s a lot of stigma,” said Marzin.

For the newcomers and immigrants to Toronto, Eastview strives to ensure that their food initiatives are not merely eurocentric. The food bank frequently purchases meat from halal vendors. Eastview also caters to many different holidays, handing out mooncakes during Mid-Autumn  Festival and hiring a community member to make samosas for Ramadan. There is a dedicated and diverse team of volunteers at Eastview, which enables the food bank to serve everyone, including those who face language and cultural barriers to food access.

“We have volunteers who will help us with Bengali, or Somali, or Mandarin,” Marzin noted. “They’re all willing to help translate.”

“I want people to be more aware of the food bank, and just make sure that they know where [food is] coming from,” said Neeka Allison, who started volunteering at the food bank over 20 years ago. Phyllis Baker, another volunteer, has been with Eastview for 40 years. “Everybody tells everybody about the food bank,” Baker pointed out. She lives in the apartment complex next door to the community centre; whenever she sees a newcomer neighbour, she welcomes them to the Danforth and lets them know about Eastview’s program. Some volunteers are food bank participants too; Eastview provides them with a meal on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they help out.

Marzin also looks to build relationships between Eastview Centre and local businesses, many of which have donated food or offered discounts. Marzin worked out a deal with a Starbucks on Pape and Danforth to rescue their day-old sandwiches, which otherwise would’ve been thrown out. Mocha Mocha and Avoca Chocolates have also been great supporters.

“In the summertime, I’ll go on BlogTO to see the new cafes or restaurants that are opening up,” said Marzin. “I’ll bike over to them, try the food, and be like: ‘Hey, what do you do with your stuff that’s not great?’ I’ll try to create those connections.”

In times of crisis, the issues surrounding food insecurity are amplified and deepened, but so are these relationships formed with the local community.

Wall with a painted landscape
Photo by Marie-Jade Charest

Amidst the rising anti-Asian sentiments at the onset of COVID-19, Eastview prioritized purchasing from Chinatown grocers to help their businesses. Mezes, a Greek restaurant on Danforth Street, donated hundreds of chicken souvlaki meals to Eastview during the pandemic. With the recent surge of Ukrainian refugees in Toronto, Marzin looked to Facebook groups to try and find local Ukrainian volunteers who could help with translations. The Daily Bread, another food charity based in Toronto, was instrumental in helping Eastview translate their documents.

This constant striving to find food feels, at times, a never-ending race with a shifting goalpost. “I thought that COVID could’ve been the hardest part of this job,” Marzin confessed. “It’s been quite different…Post-COVID, with the inflation.” Before the pandemic, there were about 50 to 70 participants. Now, 180 to 200 people depend upon Eastview’s food program. February/March is traditionally one of the food bank’s busiest times, as people often overextend their budget around the holiday season, and now they’re trying to recuperate.

Eastview has a limited capacity, especially when it comes to delivering food or supporting large households (which may have upwards of seven or more people), but they are able to increase their reach by working with other food programs, such as Second Harvest, a food rescue charity; Out of the Cold, a hot meals program; and Eastminster Church and the Mustard Seed, who also run food banks. When banded together, these food services form a network that is able to meet a more diverse range of needs—but they could do even more, if they received more aid from Danforth residents.

February/March is traditionally one of the food bank’s busiest times, as people often overextend their budget around the holiday season, and now they’re trying to recuperate.

“As much as it’s so rewarding to go to the grocery store and buy a bunch of cans for the food bank, supporting us with money to buy produce is ideal,” Marzin explained.

Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre's kitchen
Photo by Marie-Jade Charest

Those who are unable to make financial contributions to Eastview can donate materials, such as egg cartons or reusable bags, which can be used to distribute food. Eastview also runs a community garden and welcomes donations of excess fruits and vegetables from other people’s private gardens. Marzin also encourages people to advocate for food rescue and to connect Eastview with local businesses who can offer food or discounts. Dedicated and consistent volunteers are, as always, highly appreciated. “I can connect [volunteers] with people who need deliveries,” said Marzin, speaking of Eastview’s drop-off program for those who are unable to come to the food bank. “We have a cargo bike.”

Rescuing food is a job that is both endlessly exhausting and endlessly rewarding. “I love food security. I’m like a little food security nerd,” Marzin gushed. There are many facets in the facilitation of food access, all of which require many community resources and support.

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