Feeding Calgary families with dignity this holiday season

Local groups unite to provide locally-sourced holiday dinner boxes through Pay-What-You-Want markets

By Krista Sylvester | December 16, 2021 |2:11 am

Photo: Submitted

It’s all about providing people with empowerment when it comes to their food options. 

Partnering with YYC Growers and Fresh Routes, the YYC Food Security Fund is helping give Calgarians the choice to Dine With Dignity™ this holiday season. 

The initiative will provide locally-sourced holiday dinner boxes for 120 families, which is approximately 800 people, through Fresh Routes’ Pay-What-You-Want markets in Calgary and regional Indigenous communities.

The meal kits, which retail from $85 to $145, will be available for pay-what-you-can purchase through Fresh Routes markets from December 21 to 23.
The meal kits, which retail from $85 to $145, will be available for pay-what-you-can purchase through Fresh Routes markets from December 21 to 23.

“We have such good intentions around the holiday season, wanting to ensure that no one goes hungry, but the approach of some organizations who address emergency food access is too prescriptive,” says Lourdes Juan, founder of Fresh Routes. 

Fresh, locally sourced food 

Fresh Routes is a social enterprise that runs a network of pop-up “pay-what-you-want” markets offering fresh fruits, veggies, eggs and whole grains at Calgary-area transit stations and in local Indigenous communities. 

“We established Fresh Routes to take a dignity-based approach that doesn’t require proof of need or the collection of personal information, and acknowledges that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ food hamper isn’t the right fit for everyone who is struggling to access food.”

The meal kits, assembled and distributed by YYC Growers, feature a menu designed by Calgary-based chef Jaime Harling that includes regionally sourced turkey and sides including potatoes, carrots, charred cabbage and salad. 

The ingredients for the meal have been sourced from local producers and family businesses including Winters’ Turkeys, Amiable Organics, Sudo Farms, Eagle Creek Farm, Poplar Bluff Farms, Galimax Trading, Southern Skies Farm, MicroYYC, Shirley’s Greenhouse, and Fairview Farm.

Eliminating barriers and empowering people 

By making these meal kits available to those in the community for whom price may be a barrier to accessing fresh, local meat and produce, the YYC Food Security Fund is about empowering people who are struggling with food access. 

That means providing fresh, healthy, local options, not just whatever happens to come in a hamper, says Calgary-based philanthropist and YYC Food Security Fund creator Zai Mamdani.

“There’s a lot of benefits to the pay-what-you-want model and for dignity. It’s natural when you get to pay something for what you’re taking, to not feel like it’s a charity case. And that allows for some dignity,” Mamdani says. 

“There’s also a lot to be said about choosing your own food. This way, you’re not just receiving a Christmas hamper — you actually get to choose your food.” 

Programs like this are especially important this time of year. 

“Things have been very tough. I imagine there’s a lot of people and families that are really struggling to put together an entire Christmas dinner,” Mamdani says, adding everything is locally sourced and produced. 

“It gives these families an opportunity to buy a Christmas meal that feeds a family of six to eight people, with the turkey, the vegetables, the dressing, and sides. To create a whole meal is a pretty big deal when they can just pay whatever it is that they can afford to at that moment.”

But that’s not all 

That’s not the only benefit; Economic studies have shown that for every $1 invested in food access solutions that include local producers, there is an approximately $6 economic impact that is generated for the local economy.

“That’s very significant. When you think about $5,000, that translates into $25,000 to $30,000 back into the local food economy,” Mamdani adds. 

The meal kits, which retail from $85 to $145, will be available for purchase at a cost of the buyer’s choosing through Fresh Routes markets from December 21 to 23. 

 Any proceeds from the kits will go back into the YYC Food Security Fund to continue to support local Pay-What-You-Want Market initiatives.

Click here for more information. 

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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