U-Feast is all about giving back to the community, which is why we have partnered up with an awesome Toronto charity called The Stop. A percentage of all our ticket sales goes toward this charity that provides food and nutritional services to people in need, so whenever you buy a ticket to one of our events, you can feel good knowing that you are giving to charity! So far U-Feast has raised over $900 for The Stop and it is an organization that we feel passionate about. We got the opportunity to sit down with the head chef of the organization, Monica Bettson, where we got the main scoop on how The Stop operates!
Q. For our readers who don’t know much about The Stop, can you provide us with some background information on what The Stop is all about and what you guys do?
A. The Stop started as one of Canada’s first food banks quite a few years ago but we’ve grown into a much larger organization and have become much more than just a food bank since then. What we strive to do is give people access to healthy food in a way that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality. Through that program we provide a healthy food bank. We also have a drop in center where we serve breakfast and lunch four times a week that serves about 200 people at each meal. That is entirely free and available to anyone who needs it. Many people who come in are those that are food insecure which could be both families or people living in isolation. Then, within our drop in program, we have lots of other services as well. We have people that come in for the dental bus that comes outside, and we also see people come in for the workshop that teaches them about nutrition. As you can see we have many different services to offer. We actually have a second location at Wychwood Barns at Christie and St. Clair. That is where we have our farmers market for The Stop every Saturday. It’s one of the city’s biggest farmer’s markets, we actually have 40 to 60 vendors who are all from southern Ontario. We also have more programs which center around urban agriculture and we have a lot of different First Nations programming as well. We’re such a such a large organization with so many different projects on the go.
Q. Why did you personally join The Stop?
A. I started working at The Stop as a placement student. I was in teacher’s college and I did a placement with the education program here at The Stop. I was teaching visiting classrooms of primary school kids about gardening. So that was my first placement here for about a month and then I just never left. I volunteered for a while. I’ve worked in a variety of positions for instance I’ve done a little bit of education and a little bit of running our Farmer’s Market Café. Then I’ve worked as the kitchen assistant for the past four years and then I just transitioned into the role of the community chef this year.
Q. In your new position as community Chef, do you have any favourite or memorable dishes that you have prepared?
A. Just to choose one would be so difficult! However, there was a very memorable lunch that I made last year. So when I work for a drop in, I work with a team of four or five volunteers who come in every week. We have a woman who lives in the neighbourhood named Arminda and she immigrated here from Portugal about 30 or 40 years ago. She is a very talented home chef and gardener and she taught us how to make Caldo Verde which is a Portuguese soup. I love to read cookbooks and I love to learn about food from around the world but it’s really amazing to learn a recipe from someone who has grown up cooking and eating it. We have a lot of Portuguese people in our community so that was that was a really nice lunch for them as well.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of working for The Stop?
A. Definitely sending people home with a happy belly. We’re sending them home with a full stomach but so much more comes along with that. If you are food insecure, this might be your only meal that you eat during the day, but even if this isn’t the only meal you eat during the day, merely sitting down to eat or drop in is a chance to connect with other people, to sit down with a friend, to have some community, and just to feel respected and to feel that you have a place. So you’re going home with so much more than just a full stomach you’re going home with a sense that you belong here and we hope that you get some sort of comfort out of sitting down to have a meal with us.
Q. Roughly how much does The Stop raise in donations a year?
A. In 2017 we had six main fundraiser and community events. We have our ‘What’s on the Table’, our night markets, and other events like that. Through that we have generated 1.1 million dollars which goes into our work. So we are incredibly dependent on our fundraising team and the events we run as well. We rely both on our corporate donors and our private donors, without them we could not do the work that we do. The amount of grants and funding we get from the different levels of government is very low, it would be a very small percentage of our annual budget. So without our fundraising team and our donors, we would not be able to do what we do.
Q. What can the average person do to get involved with The Stop?
A. If they were looking to donate money, any amount is useful, it is just a matter of visiting our website and seeing the different campaigns that we have. We have monthly donor programs and we also have just a one-time donor program if they prefer. On top of that, if you were in a position where you didn’t feel like you could donate money but you wanted to donate your own time and talents, we have a team of volunteers. I want to say it’s at least 200 regular volunteers. So if you’re ever interested in donating your time to The Stop, we have a volunteer coordinator who accepts applications from people and then streams them into our different areas at any one day. We have probably at least 30 or 40 volunteers working on site. We couldn’t do the work we do without the donation of people’s time, so if you’re ever interested in volunteering with The Stop, that would be the way to do it.
If you are interested in learning more about The Stop, wish to make a donation or become a volunteer, please visit http://thestop.org/.