FoodShare’s goal is to “inspire long-term solutions for a food system where everyone has access to affordable, fresh, nutritious food.”
Working closely with Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, and People with Disabilities, their food justice work is centred around assisting the most affected groups who face food insecurity.
FoodShare hosts a variety of community-based programs across Toronto. Their programs range from urban agriculture, educational workshops, to their most known, the Good Food Box, yet all programming is rooted in providing equitable and access to healthy food.
“For us, it really about using our voices and organization to advocate for meaningful social and economic policy to challenge the actual root cause of food insecurity,” shared Laëtitia Eyssartel, Senior Director at FoodShare.
Chef and advocate Suzanne Barr has been working with FoodShare for the last four years, first introduced through their Recipes for Change Annual Fundraiser and served on the Board of Directors for two years.
“To me, having the discussions around equity, diversity, and inclusion at the table is important,” explains Barr, “those values are seen in the work done by FoodShare as they make sure that everyone can have access to good food.”
“I’ve worked as a chef for 15 years, really advocating, standing up and speaking about the things that are important within the food, food industry, and hospitality world, and making sure that we know that voices that are needed voices that are not heard need someone to lift them up,” shared Barr.
“In my current advocacy role at FoodShare these principals are rooted in the work that I do, and the work that FoodShare does for the community.”
“We do work mostly with communities that face a higher level of food insecurity and lack access to food for various reasons,” shared Eyssartel, with each initiative developed based on their neighbourhood’s needs.
For example, through FoodShare’s School Grown program, urban fruit and vegetable gardens are grown on school rooftops and lawns to create student employment and provide a hands-on educational experience to teach about farming, entrepreneurship, and food literacy.
FoodShare’s Good Food Box
One of their most successful programs to have grown exponentially during the pandemic has been FoodShare’s Good Food Box. A few years ago, FoodShare realized that many of their clients were looking for a way to support the organization. The shift to a social enterprise model has allowed them to create a virtual market selling produce and other grocery items to help support the organization.
Through this program, FoodShare can work with “agencies, grassroots organization, community organization, who are trying to offer the produce bucks to folks in their community that otherwise couldn’t afford to have fresh produce,” explained Eyssartel.
“The Good Food Box has exploded during the pandemic,” said Eyssartel. “Before the pandemic, there were approximately 4.5 million people in Canada facing food insecurity, and during the pandemic, there was an additional 1 million more people facing food insecurity and struggling to get access to food and fresh produce.”
“As an organization, our mission and our philosophy have always been that people should be able to access the food that they need and want in dignity,” explained Eyssartel. “We used our organizational capacity to fundraise and partner with over 100 grassroots and community organizations to deliver the same box that you could order online to those struggling to access food and with the impact of COVID-19.”
“It’s been overwhelming hearing all the stories and receiving so many emails from those who ended up getting the box and how grateful they are. Sometimes it feels like this box was the difference between being able to have something to put on the table for them and their family versus not having anything to eat,” shared Eyssartel. “Seeing the rise in mutual aid projects across the city and the power of people getting and working together with their community has been the inspiring and positive change that we are pushing for.”
Before the pandemic, FoodShare received on average 250 orders per week for their Good Food Box. As a result of the increased demand during the pandemic, that number quickly rose to 6,000 orders a week. The increase in revenue, not only allowed FoodShare to become a living wage employer (offering an extra $4 an hour per employee), provide an additional 10 paid sick days for all staff (regardless of their employment type), but also allowed them to provide employment opportunities to international students who couldn’t claim government benefits from the pandemic and had lost their job because of lockdown closures.
“I think as an organization our approach is rooted in food justice. It was important for us to make sure that it’s not just about what we say externally, but how treat those within our organization,” said Eyssartel.