Caring for a community by serving good food

From the Food Matters Blog

Planning and preparing nutritious meals for a family is hard work. Now, imagine if your family was made of 50+ women and children in your community. For Helena Kelly, a Kitchen Prep employee at West Central Women’s Resource Centre (WCWRC), this is the case. Preparing a nutritious meal for a community requires a lot of knowledge, planning, dedication, and passion for social good. Helena’s supervisor, Megan, directed her to our Community Tables program last fall to learn more about preparing nutritious meals for her community.

When I visited Helena at the centre, she was in the middle of preparing a hearty chili (along with a vegetarian option) for the dinner serving that night. It had been almost two months since the end of the program, but her eyes still lit up with excitement when she spoke about her memorable highlights. “Seeing that not only is food important to sustain you, but that also being together with other people and getting to know the knowledge and everybody’s input. It was awesome to be in the presence of that knowledge,” she said.

Helena prepares a large pot of chili for the night's drop-in meal at the West Central Women's Resource Centre

Helena prepares a large pot of chili for the night’s drop-in meal at the West Central Women’s Resource Centre

The curriculum, developed by nutritionists and experienced food program coordinators, teaches about eating in a way that supports good health in our bodies and our minds. Recognizing the challenging reality faced by organizations that are providing food for their clients, the program covers topics like working with donated foods and limited budgets, cooking for clients with diabetes, making sense of food packaging and understanding cultural foods. Along with hands-on experience in the kitchen, the program also encourages idea-sharing, brainstorming, and teaching through personal experience.

One particular good food tip (check out our blog post on the top good food tips) that Helena enjoyed was the idea of cooking with lentils as a meat substitute. “Since [Community Tables], I’ve worked with green lentils,” said Helena. “I made a dish the other night – it was shepherd’s pie with green lentils, for the participants who do not eat regular ground beef. I was a little nervous about cooking lentils, but I’m getting more familiar with it!”

“Happy tummy, happy heart”

As we sat in the sewing room at the centre, Helena reflected on her personal journey to becoming a food preparer for the community. “When I started coming here, I was in the midst of healing and I did not know where to start. I went to several centres and I got to know Spence Neighbourhood Association, and they brought me here for a sewing class,” she recounted. “So this is the room I learned how to sew. I remember walking through the doors at the front and right away being offered a warm bowl of soup,” she paused. “Not that it was cold outside, but inside of me, I was a scared woman. And that’s the same for a few of my sisters who come here.”

One of Helena's favourite meals to make is pita pizzas - they're easy to make and delicious!

One of Helena’s favourite meals to make is pita pizzas – they’re easy to make and delicious!

Helena refers to the women who come to the centre as sisters. “They’re not just women to me,” she said, “They are my family. It doesn’t matter if they come here for the first time or if you’re a regular, I’ll do my best to cook for you and because I love it here. It feels like a second home.”

For Helena, providing warm and nutritious meals for other women seeking safe space, like she once had, is fulfilling work. “Offering a meal can be a turning point in someone’s life,” she explained, “it was in mine.” She beamed when she talked about helping others out at meal times, and knowing that those she served had a “happy tummy, happy heart”.

Stories like Helena’s demonstrate the incredible power of food to bring people together, create safe spaces, and build community. We recognize the good work that community organizations like WCWRC and community champions like Helena are doing, and believe in the positive impact of good food on communities. With Community Tables, we support and connect community organizations, equipping them with food skills and nutrition knowledge to continue to serve good food to their community.

By: Danielle Moore, Communications Intern, Food Matters Manitoba

For more information about Community Tables, please contact Anna Levin at or (204) 943-0822 ext. 108.

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