Lisa Synott first visited Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre with her kids after seeing a poster for a fun fair 14 years ago.
Pretty soon, it became a community where they found homework help, friendships, emergency food support, summer day camps.
But Lisa also knew she had a lot to give. She was eager to share family recipes for making jams, jellies and pickles.
And when Glen Cairn recently installed a commercial kitchen, Lisa boosted her passion into chef training through ATN Access – and then into a job that helps her transform fresh food into nutritious meals.
“My nickname here is The Soup Whisperer,” she says proudly.
“I take food that’s good, but maybe doesn’t look so great, and re-invent it into meals or soups in my own recipes. I teach people how to make it, or I make it and freeze it and we sell it or give it away to people that come to the centre.”
Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre is also the epicentre of the London Good Food Project, which, in partnership with London Food Coalition Inc., takes in fresh-food donations from grocery stores and other commercial donors, and distributes it to 22 agencies, schools and neighbourhood centres across city and county.
Emergency food “is the bread and butter of what we do,” says Glen Cairn centre executive director Stanislav Rajic, but it also provides a gateway into a broader spectrum of services.
“Usually when people are missing food or needing food, other needs in their lives need to be addressed too: connection, language services, dental care, social services, the cost of utility bills and things like that,” Rajic says.
“Food need is probably easiest need for people to articulate but it’s just a beginning of the journey.”
Basic needs and connection are key in each of the nine local community/ neighbourhood resource centres United Way Elgin Middlesex supports.
At United Way, we believe everyone needs help sometimes. And we believe that everyone – like Lisa, like you – can give help sometimes.
It’s not easy to make a go of it these days. People living near the margins or in poverty are finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable food, housing and other basic needs.
This is where United Way comes in: advocating for and investing in local programs connecting people to needed services that help them become their best selves.
United Way Elgin Middlesex is the region’s largest non-government funder of social services.
We do that in partnership with 40 agencies that provide 52 services to the broadest possible range of people: children, seniors, families, newcomers and equity-seeking groups including Indigenous peoples.
And when those agencies also work together, United Way’s impact multiplies, for good.
“We can accomplish a lot more together than individually,” reflects Elisabete Rodrigues, executive director of LUSO Community Services.
“As needs arise and as gaps are identified, working together as resource centres helps us adapt. We’re able to come together quickly and say, ‘okay, how can we improve on this?’ ”
Rodrigues aims for a day when community centres – and all the supports they offer – are as prevalent as libraries .
“You walk into a library regardless of your income status, and we want people to see neighbourhood resource centres the same way. No stigma. Just community, and the supports people need.”
For Lisa and her family, that’s already a reality. “This is a safe space. It’s no judgment. Everybody is friends. Everybody gets along.”