Riverside South Community Table Food Bank Opens

It did not take long for the Riverside South Community Table to make an impact when it opened its doors for the first time earlier this month inside Brierley’s Your Independent Grocer.

“Within the first minute of entering The Community Table, our first two guests broke down in tears, unable to comprehend the events that brought them to the point of needing a food bank,” said Linda Cudmore. “Yet at the same time, they were so full of gratitude that we were here for them, serving with compassion, care and without judgement.”

The new food bank took about two years to come to fruition. The idea came from The Gathering, a Riverside South Christian Church.

The Gathering’s Pastor, Jeff Jantzi, was leading prayer groups outside on summer evenings. The group noticed that no one was outside on beautiful evenings as the community was coming out of COVID-19.

“The mission was to identify a need and do what we can with the people and resources we have to help fill that need,” Jantzi said. “We were open to whatever God was calling us to, no matter how big or small. We simply wanted to care for our neighbours.”

A quickly growing community in the past 25 years, Riverside South now has a population of over 20,000 people. When a demographic study was complete, the outreach steering committee was shocked to learn that between four and five per cent of households in Riverside South were living under the poverty line.  That represented over 600 families.

The Gathering decided to explore deeper. Visits to more than a dozen food banks across the city were affirming that they were overburdened with families in need of food and so many other resources, that they were seeing double and in some cases triple the amount of families since before COVID-19.

“If you look at a map of Riverside South, you will see that there is a big, gaping hole where there are no resources whatsoever. No easily accessible food bank. In fact, there is only one church, and we are it!” Cudmore said. “It was becoming clearer and clearer the direction we were headed. But as a portable church that sets up every Sunday in a high school gymnasium, where could we possibly find affordable space to set up a food bank?”

When Jeff Brierley, owner of the Your Independent Grocer in Riverside South, found out there was a need for space for a new food bank, he immediately offered space in his building. He also gave the group the use of two fridges, and donations began to be made at the store.

“In all my time with Loblaws, I’ve always tried to do my best to help out in the community as much as possible,?” said Brierley. “Specifically, my stores have always worked closely with the Ottawa Food Bank.”

When Brierley heard the Craig Cudmore from the group talk about the need for a food bank in Riverside South, he wanted to be involved. One of the biggest obstacles the group faced was space for the food bank.

“I knew we could make an impact with a large empty room that was being used for storage,” Brierley said. “I realize how expensive rent, refrigeration and power is. Food diversion is very important to us at the store and we know we can support by having our food that is close to the best before date diverted to the Community Table, but we realize housing the Community Table in the store would help get the group started up earlier with less financial burden. Even if it’s just a few families to start, that’s a few families’ lives that will be that much better and that’s what matters the most in our community.”

Linda Cudmore said having a food bank operating in a grocery store presented a unique opportunity.

“Naturally our first concern was how to become invisible in the store so our guests know that we are doing our best to respect their privacy,” she said. “We have not found any model like this in North America. We know there will be apprehension but we hope they trust us enough to reach out.”

The Community Table officially launched service on May 6th.  They have been showered with support from the community and first guests all expressed deep appreciation that there is now a place closer by to receive food help. In addition, they noted that the needs in RSS have mostly gone unnoticed until now.

“We are thrilled to bring our community together in this way, and impressed with how quickly people are embracing this initiative, neighbours helping neighbours,” Cudmore said.

The committee has also received great support from City Councilllor, Steve Desroches throughout the planning stages.

“Thank you to the dedicated volunteers who have brought this important initiative to our community in support of those that need it most,” Desroches said.

Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari, who often shops at the store, stood up in Legislature at Queen’s Park and praised the group publicly in a Member’s Statement earlier this month.

“As the MPP for Carleton, I could not be more proud of the volunteers in Riverside South who have turned a need in the community into a reality’” said Ghamari in her statement. “Poverty and hunger is all around us, and more often than not, we don’t see it. Our lives are measured by the impact we have on others. The Community Table will have an immediate impact on hundreds of people in our community. Before long, it will impact thousands.”

The Community Table is available by appointment to any resident of Riverside South who is in need of food. To receive food assistance, to make a donation, organize a food drive or for more information, contact The Community Table at  www.thecommunitytable.ca or call them at 613-416-3993.

They can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.