A food bank is offering a community market every week in Malton, Ont., that connects clients with hand-picked fresh produce and offers opportunities to learn about healthy eating.
Every Thursday since Sept. 23, The Mississauga Food Bank connects volunteers and staff with clients in an outdoor, COVID-19 safe environment. The market, which takes place in Elmcreek Park, offers a range of fruits and vegetables freshly grown in Canadian farms, combined with additional donations.
The food bank plans to open more community markets in high-priority neighbourhoods, said Joanna Burke, its director of marketing and communications.
“We want to be able to feed more people, making sure it’s appropriate and there’s food that caters to people with dietary restrictions or cultural preferences and more,” she said. “The money we raise helps us buy food at a quarter of the cost. We encourage people to make monetary donations where possible so we can buy fresh food.”
Heather McLean, the food bank’s programs manager, sets up and runs the market every week. She said the goal is to create places and opportunities that bring people together in new and unique ways to support their food security and reflect the community’s diversity.
“In many conversations with clients, they’ve shared stories about losing their jobs, unaffordable housing, expenses increasing and prioritizing purchases for their family,” she said.
“And unfortunately, that means scaling back on food purchases or on healthier items that they would normally buy.”
McLean plays a vital role in designing several programs at the food bank and brings concepts like the community market to reality. She networks with a total of 53 agencies across Mississauga that distribute food supplies and support the food bank with essential client needs.
“The community market helps promote healthy food consumption by removing barriers to healthy foods and bringing it directly to communities where people can have access to it,” said McLean.
“We saw a 30 per cent increase in clients for our first week, and we’ve steadily maintained that number over the past five weeks. That’s approximately 250 to 270 clients every week and about 1,000 adults and children in total.”
The market receives “overwhelmingly positive feedback,” said McLean. The food bank also conducts client surveys and tries to integrate people’s feedback, such as adding more bread products and a senior line-up for shorter waits.
The market is joining forces with Ecosource, an organization that also offers fresh produce in Mississauga through its community garden, for an event discussing sustainability, community gardens and healthy food options on Nov. 4.
“In the future we would like to run the community market during the farm season, being spring, summer and early fall. It would be also be ideal to find an indoor space for the coming winter months,” McLean said.
“We plan to launch a mobile that would be able to offer all products and food items that clients would need. That would pair the fresh fruits and vegetables with eggs, protein, cans, boxes and non-perishable foods.”