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Communitas Supportive Care in Abbotsford responds to food insecurity

Programs offer creative solutions for people struggling with rising costs
At Centennial Place in Mission, clubhouse members and staff prepare a hot lunch for members. (Communitas photo: Krystina Hetherington)

With inflation on the rise and food prices increasing, staff at Communitas Supportive Care Society in Abbotsford are asking: What does this mean for people who are on a fixed income and live with mental health challenges?

At Centennial Place, a mental health clubhouse in Mission facilitated by Communitas, it means finding creative solutions to help their members stay healthy and fed.

Manager Krystina Hetherington and her staff have been hearing a lot about people struggling to keep up with rising costs.

“Many of our members are living on a limited, low income,” she said. “It means some of them have been having to make difficult choices. One member recently told us that he eats one less meal a day now that food prices have risen.”

To respond to this challenge, they have started a food exchange cupboard with the goal of providing food for those who need it while also reducing food waste. The concept is a simple bring-some-take-some exchange. The initiative is proving to meet a felt need.

“It might be something that’s been sitting in your cupboard for awhile and you realize that you’re not going to use it, so you bring it in and exchange it for something else,” Hetherington said. “It helps feed someone and has the added bonus of food not going to waste.”

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Along with their exchange program, the clubhouse also offers members a weekly lunch, a Smoothie Island, a Healthy Treats group, and a weekly cooking class, all offered at a low cost.

“The classes teach members how to make simple, nutritious meals, smoothies, and snacks using ingredients that are easy to find and inexpensive,” Hetherington said.

In Chilliwack, where Communitas facilitates services for people who live with an acquired brain injury, similar supports are in place.

Esther Tremblay manages the Brain Injury Drop-In in Chilliwack and says rising food costs have definitely impacted the people they serve.

Just like Centennial Place, the Brain Injury Drop-In offers weekly meals and snacks to participants. The drop-in operates out of a church, and members of the congregation often make donations to the participants.

“We are very fortunate to have generous donors,” Tremblay said. “These people know that everything goes to people who really need it.”

A community garden in spring and summer allows participants to grow their own vegetables. Those who live in apartments also use planters on their balconies and, when they have extra produce, they share it among themselves.

Education is an important component of the drop-in’s response to food insecurity.

“We teach people how to use what is at hand and how to be resourceful with what you have. We talk about following sales, and buying bulk and sharing with others,” Tremblay said.

“Everyone on a fixed income knows it is not easy to make the money stretch. In this difficult time of inflation, it is even more important to know how to use what is available.”

Vicky Manderson manages Communitas’ Supported Independent Living (SIL) in Abbotsford. She knows that poor nutrition can have a big impact on a person’s wellness and can exacerbate symptoms for those living with mood disorders and depression.

Manderson said some of the people served through SIL have indicated they are struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in people we serve accessing the food bank,” she said.

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One of the tools Manderson has shared is a listing of food resources in Abbotsford, created by Abbotsford ACCESS, an initiative of the City of Abbotsford’s housing, homelessness, and community development team.

It lists free and low-cost food programs being offered by agencies throughout the city.

As food prices fluctuate, Hetherington, Tremblay and Manderson are grateful there are resources available to support the people they serve in times of crisis.

They are also grateful that the people they serve are willing to be vulnerable enough to talk about their needs. Being aware of what is needed is the first step in crafting a response.

“I’m always amazed by the resilience and resourcefulness of the people I serve,” Manderson said. “I’m also inspired by the creative ways our staff respond to need.”

Abbotsford News Staff

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