Pilot project helps women create culturally-sensitive food boxes

Pilot project helps women create culturally-sensitive food boxes

Chalmers Community Services Centre ran a healthy food and safe food handling pilot project for Arab women

If you have ever had to access a food bank, you would know the type of food options available can be limited, particularly for those from other parts of the world.

This winter, Chalmers Community Services Centre ran a pilot project and invited 21 women originally from different Arabic speaking nations to build a healthy, culturally-sensitive food box.

The women were from countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Jordan, Somalia, Iraq and Morocco. 

The Arab Women’s Society of Guelph helped connect the women to this pilot project.

“When you come to a new country and you are financially challenged and you have to use services like a food bank, if you go there and don’t find foods you even recognize, you’re not going to feel welcome,” said Vicki Olatundun, executive director of Chalmers.

Chalmers teamed up with Action Read to provide a safe food handling course for 10 of the women who spoke English. Those who primarily spoke Arabic, took the course with Accents Multilingual Workplace Training. 

Upon completion of the course women will receive a certificate and create a food box to bring home with them.

“Our goal at Chalmers is to not just give a hand-out but to give a hand-up,” said Olatundun.

With some of their funding Chalmers wants to add more dried goods like lentils to be offered at their food pantry.

Olatundun said she hopes to receive new funding so she can run this pilot project again. Seventy five more women from the Arab Women’s Society of Guelph have expressed interest in the joining the project. Olatundun wants to expand the program to people from other nationalities. 

“Even when these families have been given food from food banks, if they get food they can’t use they feel very bad because of the waste. They also feel too embarrassed to bring it back because they feel like it would come across like they’re being ungrateful. That’s not the case,” said Olatundun. 

Many of the women had not left their homes and engaged with the community for years, so this project was able to empower them in a meaningful way, she said.

The women will celebrate at their graduation ceremony on Friday.