Caledon Exchange will reinvent the food bank

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Caledon Enterprise
By Matthew Strader

Caledon Community Services wants to close its food bank.

The interesting part is it will cost almost $500,000 worth of construction work and possibly $200,000 a year in operating costs to achieve that.

Why? Because the vision is grand, and the support has been substantial.

“Because of the people who have stepped forward, we had a chance to build something that will provide our clients and this entire community with a wonderful experience when they visit,” said Caledon Community Services (CCS) Chief Executive Officer Monty Laskin. “So, with the support offered to CCS, and with a board of directors taking a leap of faith, we reached for the stars and have developed something that will be really exceptional.”

Laskin’s analogy is coming to life at the end units at 55 Healey Road.

Solmar Development Corporation, in partnership with CCS and Johnson Chou Architects, is creating a site that will be unique to Ontario, and possibly the entire country. It is called the Caledon Exchange.

Don’t call it a food bank, because the end result will be much, much more than what would be expected of that term, according Laskin and his staff who have a vision, one that has been stewing in their collective consciousness for some time.

Meanwhile, the children of the parents in the yoga class can be making cookies in the kitchen, helping sort fresh produce donated by a local farmer and much more. The vision is big and now that it is coming together, Laskin said, the possibilities are endless.

Without the construction expertise, financial contributions, materials and staff from Solmar, the construction of the Exchange would simply not be possible, Laskin said. But construction is phase one of an operation like this, and the Chief Executive Officer said the next mission has already begun.

“It’s going to be a tall mountain to climb to sustain the operations, we know that,” he said. “Even with volunteers stepping forward, there’s rent, supplies, and a small staff team. Our work is cut out for us but if it was easy, it would have been done already.”

And now, the work is being done to find the funding.

The Town of Caledon stepped up with $85,000 from its council golf tournament this past year, while MARS Canada has committed $25,000 a year for five years.

Shawn MacLeod, General Manager of MARS Food Canada, expressed many of the same sentiments as Paolicelli.

He said Laskin gave him a tour of the present CCS food bank, a 75 square foot closet, and he knew it didn’t meet the needs of the community.

“It’s in our DNA to do stuff like this,” MacLeod said about his company. “But we were also so incredibly touched by Monty’s vision. The company principally believes we should give back to the communities we do business in so they can be better. Some of the guiding principals are responsibility and mutuality. A mutual benefit is one that endures. Giving back to the community answers to those principals.”

The Graham Family Foundation of Inglewood has also committed $114,000, and many faith communities have approached Laskin and asked simply, “what can we do?”

“The reception we have already seen is overwhelming,” Laskin said. Buoyed by the eclectic group of community members who have come together to ensure this project’s success, Laskin could not contain his optimism.

“It’s the community who is going to make this a success. It’s something we want to give back to them,” he noted, saying the mission is not to have the Exchange under the CCS umbrella, but to have it be something the people of Caledon feel ownership over themselves. “And we can see that already happening.”

According to Paolicelli, the goal is to have the centre completed in the next six to eight weeks.

Residents across Caledon will know the day, it will be when they hear Laskin and his staff collectively scream for joy.

“People come in, they open up our (food) hampers, and they take cans out and leave them with us,” he said. “We learned that we were behaving in ways that weren’t at all aligned with our vision of a healthy, engaged, compassionate community for all. We were offering something that wasn’t at all healthy and had no engagement. Clients were coming and going, often secretly, and not feeling good about themselves or about our food bank services.”

The mission is to change the thinking.

A food bank is associated as a need for the poor.

Laskin and his staff won’t even use that word. They believe in their vision of a community hub in which all community members have something to offer and something to receive. It will be a centre where a child with a mother who struggles for income, and one who doesnâ’t can participate in the same cooking class, and socialize, learn about each other, and act as a community. They believe that much more than support can be created.

“We’re trying to not just talk about poverty reduction, we’re trying to talk about a community hub,” said Laskin.

The vision includes a grocery store for clients, where they can select their food off shelves and not out of pre-packaged hampers. A place where children can learn and play, families can be counseled, community members can run classes to share skills, and Caledon – all of Caledon – can grow their well-being together.

Solmar General Manager Giuseppe Paolicelli led a tour of the construction site recently, and it was easy to see why the term food bank simply doesn’t work for anyone involved.

“We got involved with Caledon Community Services a few years ago,” Paolicelli explained. “We didn’t expect what we saw, found out, and learned about.”

Paolicelli lives just outside of Bolton and said he and many of his partners who live in Caledon were unaware of the level of need in the community.

“Monty and his people at CCS made us understand there is a big need for this. We learned about their vision for this place and we immediately said we want to get involved,” he said.

Paolicelli had his construction staff get in touch with Laskin’s staff and their architect, made a large financial commitment to aid the costs and took the lead on the construction of the centre. Something that was not hard to get his contractors involved in.

“A lot of my contractors live in Bolton and when they learned what we had learned, they were blown away. So many people just didn’t think the need was here in Caledon, and everyone has immediately said, I want to get involved.”

The project is complicated. The building is old, and the top-shelf mentality of building a beautiful place for Caledon permeates everyone involved.

“We want the best we can produce,” Paolicelli said. “At the end of the day, we want something special here for the people who want to participate in its activities. We’ve been involved in Bolton for a long time, and we like what we’re doing. We are particular about the charities we get involved in, and we want it to mean something. Many people will say we are involved for different reasons, but we have already been in this community for 14 years. To us, this is simply the right thing to do and we’re going to do it the best we can.”

The Caledon Exchange will incorporate a community kitchen, storage areas, offices, meeting rooms, educational activity rooms, board rooms, and classrooms where the community can gather, learn about each other, teach each other, share with each other, and more.

“We’ll have a large board room, I can clear it out, throw down some yoga mats, have a yoga instructor in and say, okay seniors, let’s have a yoga class,” said Laskin.

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