The Victoria Park Hub is located at 1527 Victoria Park Avenue and is a central space where local community members can access a variety of services, from employment agencies to fitness programs. The Working Women Community Centre is the lead agency at the Victoria Park Hub and focuses on providing programs and services to immigrant women and their families living in Toronto. Established in 1974, the Working Women group has helped develop several city-wide and neighbourhood projects. Their main objectives include empowering immigrant women, accelerating the newcomer settlement process, offering education and learning, and promoting community engagement and leadership development. I visited the Victoria Park Hub on Thursday, July 3 to learn more about two programs offered through the Working Women Community Centre; the Cook and Learn program and the brand new O’Connor Community Garden.
The Cook and Learn Program
The Cook & Learn Program was started about three years ago when the Victoria Park Hub was created as a way to engage community members through food. The
program runs weekly and is facilitated by volunteers and members of the Victoria Park Hub community. Every Thursday morning, cooking participants gather in the Hub’s large kitchen space to create healthy meals together. Participants take turns leading the cooking group and come up with internationally-inspired menus. Each dish is prepared by the cooking volunteers and everyone learns and works together to create delicious food. The food is ready by noon so that staff members, community members and volunteers can enjoy a tasty meal together in the Kitchen dining space.
During my visit, I helped some Cook & Learn volunteers prepare three dishes; a Greek Pasta Salad, Curried Lentil Soup and a Thai Fruit Salad. Everyone helped each other in sorting ingredients, cutting vegetables, mixing dressings and cleaning dishes. We also learned how to make some new delicious meals, and were even given recipes to take home. I helped serve the meal to paying guests and volunteers who stopped by the kitchen at lunch time. The lunch-time meal is offered at a low cost in order to cover grocery expenses, and during my visit, we were actually able to make a small profit. The funds made from the Cook and Learn program go back into the Victoria Park Hub for other programs and services.
After spending a morning with the Cook and Learn group, I met with Angela Koh who is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Victoria Park Hub. She brought me to the brand new Community Garden located near the Hub, on O’Connor Drive. Just under three months old, the garden project was started with support from Evergreen Brick Works, the Scott Mission and WalMart, and it is flourishing! The new community garden hosts several garden beds which support about 10-15 community members. The garden is called the “Growing Together Garden” and symbolizes a safe and welcoming community space where people come to work and grow together. Community members share the garden plots and everyone plants and harvests the crops together. There is also a youth program that allows students to spend time at the garden throughout the summer, maintaining the plots, watering plants and harvesting food. When I visited the garden with Angela, I was amazed at how much had grown already; a mixture of flowers, vegetables and herbs. She told me about some of the innovative ways they were helping to make the garden most productive, such as using raised beds and planting complimentary plants together to keep out pests. The produce from the garden is used by the community members and right now, about 10% of the harvest is given to the local food bank. With some initial support, the Growing Together Garden is well on its way to being completely financially independent and self-sustainable.