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Clare Wagner brings people together around food at the Hamilton Community Food Centre

It’s a cold and rainy Saturday morning, but inside Neighbour 2 Neighbour’s Hamilton Community Food Centre on Limeridge Road West, everyone gets a warm welcome.

The centre is the first of its kind in Hamilton and only the eighth in Canada—a place that’s changing the food system through the power of a great meal, cooked with love and eaten with others.

At the Saturday market and café, a woman from South Korea and her son sample Persian tea and vanilla crêpes. A man from Dubai with a PhD in agriculture fills out a volunteer form. A woman from London, Ontario, in town to visit family, marvels at a table full of bright green chard for her mom’s Kurdish dishes. “I don’t know of anything like this in my city,” she says.

More than one in three people in some Hamilton Mountain neighbourhoods are living below the poverty line, with very few services. Programs at the Hamilton Community Food Centre are free. The market and café sell their wares at or below cost. No one is asked to prove their need.

“We aren’t teaching poor people to cook,” clarifies director of community food, Clare Wagner. “We’re creating a space for people to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food.”

Community Food Centres Canada chose Hamilton from among 24 Ontario communities for a five-year, $1 million investment. A loan from HCF’s Hamilton Community Investment Fund is helping to bring the centre to life by supporting construction, a capital campaign and operations.

The centre’s programs are filling up before there’s even a sign on the building. HCF funds support the Welcome Baby program, delivered in partnership with the City’s Public Health Department, and food-focused after-school and summer programming for children and youth.

Other popular programs are an intercultural community kitchen, lunch and dinner drop-ins, community gardens, a language exchange and community action training.

“There’s hope when we bring people from different backgrounds together around food and start talking about what needs to change,” says Clare. “This is a space where people can grow and feel valued.”

Excerpt from 2017 annual report