Central City Foundation donors helped fund kitchen renovations at Collingwood Neighbourhood House.
Chef Najia Elacel works in the heart of Collingwood Neighbourhood House – the kitchen. She serves hot lunches and teaches people of all ages how to prepare their own meals in her culinary programs. The Collingwood community has come to rely on Najia, but the kitchen she works in needed an update to meet her mission to serve the community.
When Collingwood Neighbourhood House opened over 20 years ago, the kitchen served about 25 people. As time went by, so did the need and over 50 people now regularly frequent the twice-a-week community lunches. An increase in programming has also stretched the kitchen’s capabilities, forcing program coordinators to find inconvenient places for food storage and to segregate, rather than share, supplies.
With a grant from Central City Foundation donors, Collingwood Neighbourhood House was able to build custom cabinets for the kitchen that optimized organization, functionality and storage.
“The kitchen was not originally designed to feed that many people,” said Najia. “The new cupboards are bigger with more space. We designed it the way we want and it flows so much better. I’m happy we were able to create space for everyone.”
The Collingwood Neighbourhood House provides support for many of the Renfrew neighbourhoods’ most vulnerable people and provides services like a breakfast and shower program for those with insecure housing, parenting support for Indigenous people, English classes, child and youth programs, settlement support for immigrants and refugees, and so much more.
It also offers a community lunch twice a week, a “Kids Kitchen” program and the Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute, which teaches participants about sustainably grown food, local food and healthy eating right out of the Collingwood kitchen.
“Food security is a really important part of the work that we do,” said Jennifer Gray-Grant, Executive Director of Collingwood Neighbourhood House. “There are a number of people in the neighbourhood who are vulnerable for many reasons,” she adds. “Poverty or language issues can lead to poor access to food. The kitchen is important because it not only provides affordable nutritious meals, but it helps people learn to cook.”
For Najia, the issue of food security hits close to home. As a single mother, she knows how difficult it is to pay the bills and put nutritious food on the table in an increasingly unaffordable city.
When she initially came to Canada from Morocco, it was her connection to food that gave her meaningful employment and the sense of community she missed.
“I’ve been running this program for almost six years and I see the difference this program has made in their lives,” said Najia. “We have people who live alone and eat alone, so it’s a good opportunity for people to make friends,” she adds. “A lot of people lack the social skills and some people are so afraid to trust other people and build relationships. Situations happened that made them want to be alone and they don’t know how to come back to the community.”
Najia brings them back to the community through roasted peppers, fresh bread and a plethora of spices now organized in new cabinets and available to all of Collingwood’s programs.
“Central City Foundation allowed us to do this type of work,” said Gray-Grant. “We can’t raise all this money ourselves, so a partner like Central City Foundation providing some of the funding actually made it possible for us to do the renovation.”