The recipe for food literacy

Throughout this challenging year, support organizations have responded with commitment and compassion, finding ways to stay open, adapt and create new programs, and even expand. 

Literacy charities have been a big part of the response. 

Dustin WEB SIZE.jpgYou may wonder how teaching someone to read or write helps people survive lost jobs, isolation and an opioid epidemic. But literacy groups are doing so much more than that, showing people how to connect with their families using computers and the internet, teaching people about their health, and even providing cooking instruction along with food deliveries. 

Literacy is about providing skills in response to community, and that’s what’s happening at Mt. Waddington Family Literacy Society in the Tri-Port area, with support from United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island. 

“One of the things that we’re finding in the communities is that it’s more than reading support that people are identifying [as being needed],” says Leslie Dyck, literacy outreach coordinator for Mt. Waddington Family Literacy Society. “It’s mental health support, becoming literate in the language of that. Digital literacy is a big one these days … We do a lot of work around food … So teaching people all those skills, how to grow food and cook food and use the food that they are getting in their hampers. It’s really important to know all of those skills.” 

Together with North Island Building Blocks, this literacy organization provides the Food for Thought program, where participants are taught how to cook and prepare a variety of dishes and other staples like bread, muffins, snacks and more. 

Though the program began as an in-person offering in January of 2020 supported by a United Way CNVI grant, a second grant, provided by United Way CNVI through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund, got the program going again, but virtually this time. 

Now, the program’s chef and lead outreach worker at North Island Building Blocks, Dustin Swain, creates videos showing participants how to follow a provided recipe and use the food handed out in hampers. 

Participants in the program come with a broad range of abilities and backgrounds, says Swain. 

“I’ve got a younger individual who is about to move out on their own and is wanting some skillsets to take with them … I’ve got another participant that identifies that they don’t normally cook at home ever. They don’t even have mixing bowls or equipment, so I’m mindful of that and I will purchase and provide them what they need so that they can fulfill the recipe. 

“But the pendulum swings and there is the whole other end. I’ve got a few participants that have very large families, 10 to 15 people around the table every night, so they are pretty avid cooks … And then everything in between that, too.” 

People are accessing the program for a variety of reasons, says Swain. For some, it’s a great family activity and a way to get kids involved in learning how to cook. For others, it’s a way to get by and learn how best to use food that they may be receiving through groups like Loaves and Fishes. 

Participants are taught knife skills, how to read recipes, how to make dishes they may never have tried, learning that produce that may be bruised can still be used, and so much more. 

Having the lessons online has also created a community for people to talk to, ask questions of and bounce ideas back and forth. It also opens the program up to more participants. 

As more people come to rely on food banks and hampers to get by, or finances become tight, a program like this can be essential in learning how to best make use of what food is available. 

Creating this capacity is making for a healthier community, and a fun activity for individuals and families while stuck at home. 

United Way CNVI is happy to have helped make this program possible. 

“If we didn’t have the support of the United Way, the program wouldn’t exist,” says Leslie, noting several other United Way grants the organization has received in the last few years. “I really value that partnership and support. We’ve put that money to good work here, holy smokes. Lots of food going out. It’s really good.” 

United Way CNVI is supporting programs like this all across the Central and Northern Island, thanks to donors like you. If you can, please consider donating to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island today. If you are in need of help, please call 2-1-1, and speak to a bc211 Navigator who can point you to supports in your community.