The North Grove’s Community Food Centre

Dartmouth North’s community within a community.

Editor’s Note: We’re profiling organizations and individuals who have benefited from the support of the Medavie Health Foundation. We begin with a look at The North Grove Community Food Centre, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which has been working to address food security and strengthen connections between residents of its community.

If you ask Deborah Dickey, the Manager of The North Grove’s Community Food Centre, what inspires her and her team each day, she’ll quickly tell you: it’s the community. “It’s at the heart of everything we do,” Deborah explains. “Our focus is on increasing their health and wellbeing but, just as importantly, we want to provide a hub where they can make new social connections with their neighbours. The sense of belonging that we see people get from that is very inspiring.”

"Our focus is on increasing their health and wellbeing but, just as importantly, we want to provide a hub where they can make new social connections with their neighbours. The sense of belonging that we see people get from that is very inspiring."

Deborah Dickey, Manager, North Grove’s Community Food Centre

A much-needed place

The North Grove’s Community Food Centre first opened its doors in 2015, providing a much-needed place for Dartmouth North residents to acquire the healthy foods and food skills that are often missing for those facing food insecurity. As one of 13 community food centres within Community Food Centres Canada, The North Grove offers programs and resources that not only provide the food they need but also the opportunity to learn new healthy eating and cooking skills and make the social connections that are incredibly important to a person’s mental health.

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While they’ve had to adapt to address the current challenges of COVID-19, the programs offered by The North Grove’s Community Food Centre have all been developed through that social lens. For example, their community meal program is offered three days a week and includes table service by volunteer servers, allowing diners to dine with dignity and connect with those around them. During their Friday market day, visitors can purchase farm fresh produce at affordable prices, enjoy a coffee with friends and watch food demonstrations. And their community farm not only grows much of the produce they give away at their market and use in their cooking but also gives community members the chance to have their own plot, grow their own vegetables and share their harvest with others.

“We develop programming that we feel will be appealing and helpful to the community that we’re serving,” says Deborah.

"The programs have definitely evolved over time; we’re now offering more learning and community cooking sessions, both as structured programs and as drop-in sessions. Monday, Wednesday and Friday would be our busiest days, when as many as 140 people come in for our community meals. We have our market day and café on Friday. And, throughout the week, we have a range of cooking programs, including Cooking for Men and our Young Cooks program, as well as our walking and Food Fit groups. We try to have something at a variety of levels for everyone who comes into our centre.”

Helping hands

Of course, it takes a lot of hands to make all these programs and services possible, and that’s where The North Grove’s team of volunteers comes in. Throughout the week, more than 100 volunteers – typically working one or two shifts a week – do everything from cooking meals and serving visitors to working on the farm and assisting with food programs. Not only are these volunteers generously giving their time to run these programs, most of them are members of the community who have also relied on these same programs.

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That support has proven invaluable in The North Grove’s Community Action Program, which sees volunteer Peer Advocates support those who need assistance with income assistance, tenancy issues and other life challenges. The program also seeks to support residents to become more active and engaged in their community. One of the more popular ways they’ve done that is through their voting program call Speak Up! Show Up! The six-week campaign gives participants the opportunity to ‘vote’ at a practice voting booth and walk through the process they would follow when arriving at their polling stations. As the program has gained attention across the municipality, politicians have made it a point to visit the centre to talk with residents and hear their concerns. At the end of the program, participants share a meal before walking to their polling station to vote – for many, it’s the first time they’ve ever voted.

A beacon of light during difficult times

With the impact of COVID-19, the connections developed within The North Grove have become even more important, especially for seniors and those with limited mobility. For many, the centre has become a source of stability and support to help them through these difficult times. In place of some in-person programming, the centre adapted to move them online, uploading videos of their family/parenting and food programs. The produce grown in its garden was provided free-of-charge to address food security and access issues during the pandemic. And the centre developed an opt-in outreach program that sees staff making regular phone calls to neighbours simply to hear how they are doing, what challenges they might be facing and provide much-need social support. The result has been an even stronger sense of community within The North Grove, as community members feel connected and valued.

“That sense of belonging is the biggest impact we’ve seen,” says Deborah.

“In Dartmouth North, 50% of households are lone-person households, and that social isolation can take a huge toll on mental health. The North Grove gives people the opportunity to overcome that isolation and discover their place in our community, especially as it relates to supporting those around them. We don’t see people as what they’re lacking but what they have to bring to the community, centre and each other. I think, when you see people in that role, amazing things can happen.”

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Through our Foundation, Medavie is proud to support The North Grove’s Community Food Centre in its role as a community hub for family support, food and friendship. Providing supportive environments that help people develop positive food behaviours and reduce risk factors for type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions aligns with our vision that all Canadians have access to the information, tools and supports they need to live their best lives, mentally and physically.

To learn more about the Medavie Health Foundation and how it partners with organizations to support healthy living initiatives, adolescent mental health and post-traumatic stress, read about Our Community Impact.

Our Mission is to Improve the Wellbeing of Canadians.

Medavie is a health company that oversees Medavie Blue Cross and Medavie Health Services. Together, we’re bringing Canadians better health and access to care.