Orangeville Food Bank opens commercial kitchen with pilot project

September 30, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

The fantastic smell of freshly cooked food is flowing throughout the Orangeville Food Bank, thanks to the recent opening of its commercial kitchen.

The food bank relocated to a new building on 3 Commerce Road last July and officially opened their kitchen last week, which is now being operated by B Social under a yearlong pilot project.

B Social is a social enterprise run by Community Living Dufferin (CLD), Family Transition Place (FTP), and Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS), that provides work opportunities to those with barriers to employment, helping them to enter or re-enter the workforce.

Orangeville Food Bank executive director, Heather Hayes noted that the pilot project has been a fantastic collaboration for utilizing all of the food they receive, especially fresh produce.

“The goal of the project is to make sure that we use everything that’s donated to the food bank,” said Hayes. “Often when you receive 1,200 pounds of one thing, it’s a little hard to get rid of that.”

During the harvest season, she said the food bank gets many donations of fresh produce through their Grow a Row Give a Row program, the community garden, local gardeners, farmers, and the Dufferin Federation of Agriculture.

“Through the generosity of the community, we get tremendous amounts of this one kind of thing on a regular basis, so the hope was that we could start processing it,” Hayes said. “If we get, say, 400 pounds worth of green beans in a day, there’s only a limited shelf life on that…so we give out a lot of it fresh, and also now have the opportunity to freeze and blanch it just like your grandmother would have done, or use them in a casserole or something like that.” 

The other issue is the food bank always has an excess of certain non-perishables items that are donated, such as dry pasta, chickpeas and lentils, which are now being reimagined by B Social into tasty dishes that are frozen and distributed to clients of the food bank.

“We also get odd things that would be difficult for most people to use. A shipment of rose water ­– it’s not something that everybody uses. It’s a beautiful addition to East Indian sweets, but it is a difficult thing to use,” Hayes explained.

Food bank volunteers began to slowly work on processing food last summer, but with the two tons of fresh vegetables they received, it was too much product to manage, according to Hayes. She said this year, with the new B Social partnership and commercial kitchen operational, the food going out to clients will be even more delicious.

In addition to regular food bank clients, about 100 seniors throughout Dufferin County will be receiving the meals, as well as students at school once their lunch programs resume, as they’ve been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s lots of opportunities to make sure that people have access to these meals,” said Hayes.

Another benefit of bringing in B Social to process the food bank’s extra food, is it provides training, income, and purpose to individuals who struggle to find or maintain employment, due to a developmental delay, mental illness, trauma or another barrier.

Many of the individuals who use B Social for employment are also on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), which pays $1,169 a month or Ontario Works (OW) which pays $733. Under either program, those enrolled are able to earn $200 in addition to their OW or ODSP without having their benefits cut back, so the program allows them to make up to that much money, while gaining workplace experience and skills.

Members of B Social are working in the food bank’s commercial kitchen three to four days a week, under the direction of Phil DeWar, who leads the social enterprise.

He told the Citizen, through the program, they’re fostering a stronger sense of self-worth and belonging among its members, while helping the quieter ones come out of their shell.

“From our side, we see Phil and his crew coming in on a regular basis, and the smells in the food bank have been awesome, and the laughter coming out of the kitchen has been fabulous,” said Hayes.

Looking ahead to next year, she said the food bank is thinking of making salads, sandwiches, and smoothies with B Social that would be distributed to clients and eventually made available downtown.

“Ultimately, there’s an idea that we would place a vending machine in town and the food that we create from B Social would land in the vending machine,” Hayes noted. “The cost of accessing that would be very affordable, so that anybody who is food secure in our town could access this and get healthy nutritious food for an amount that they could afford.”

“Then you start expanding out a little bit, you think about community dinners that could be hosted. You think about making meals that could be accessed by families – like it’s endless what could happen,” she added.

DeWar said developing a cooking class for food bank users is another future idea that’s in the works.

Participants of the class would be provided with cooking supplies so they can cook at home as well. Some of the people who use the food bank don’t have access to pots, pans, cooking trays, measuring cups and other items needed for cooking recipes, Dewar noted.

He said he’s also thinking of putting together a video series on how to cook simple meals so when people go grocery shopping or receive food from the food bank, they know what to do with it.

There’s currently seven members of B Social and anyone interested in joining the social enterprise to gain employment experience in an accommodating environment, can reach out to Community Living Dufferin at (519) 941 8971.

Hayes said the Orangeville Food Bank, as always, is extremely grateful to the community as they’re almost 100 per cent donor funded.

“Without the donations, this project would not happen,” she stressed.

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