Death of a food bank, birth of a revolution
By Matthew Strader
It was a day of celebration, but also a day to recognize the importance of two specific things – community building, and human dignity.
Both were on display in full force at the Grand Opening of the Caledon Exchange, a revolutionary food and program exchange centre opened by Caledon Community Services, built by Solmar Development Corporation, and sponsored by a number of different portions of the community.
The Exchange is supposed to mark a new beginning and a particular death.
As Caledon Community Services (CCS) CEO Monty Laskin said, it is meant to be the end of the traditional food bank.
And tradition was not on display on Thursday.
The Exchange is a forward thinking facility with a working commercial kitchen where clients can be taught to fish, not given one, a mock grocery store so clients don’t come in to food hampers but shop to fulfill their own needs, a sizeable storage and sorting warehouse area, complete with cool storage, clothing racks for a mock store, and more. And the pièce de résistance may be the non-food bank parts.
How do you end the life of the traditional food bank?
Don’t become one.
The Exchange comes complete with community gathering areas, a play area and reading annex for children, counseling rooms, and luxurious open spaces, including a front facing board room that the CCS staff have already utilized in a number of different ways.
“We’ve had yoga classes in there, important meetings in there,” said Michelle Stubbs. “We’ve even had karaoke in there, just don’t tell Monty that”.
The mood was light, and celebratory. The crowd was a mix of smiles, wonder, and the odd teary eye, including those of Ward 1 Regional Councillor Richard Paterak, who sits on the board of CCS and chaired the council golf tournament that donated the bulk of their golf tournament proceeds to sponsor the kitchen. He credited The Exchange with bringing something to Caledon not many facilities before it could.
“Last week I heard the Premier talking about retirement, and she used the word, and it’s not used enough when it comes to places like this, and that’s dignity,” he said. “I think when we help those who have had misfortune in their lives, I think it’s important to provide that help in a way that builds on the human dignity we all share.”
Paterak spoke about the impact on children, how their experiences, and the experiences they watch their parents have and how their parents are treated can impact the way they grow and carry themselves.
He talked about the effect The Exchange could have on those people in Caledon and it’s ability to bring the entire community to one place, to share, to learn and to exchange.
“I want to congratulate our board, for having the courage, I want to congratulate our donors for having the courage, and everyone involved for having the courage to take a giant step forward to provide a facility like this, and to do it in a way that builds and preserves the dignity of the clients,” said Paterak.
Laskin told the stories of the funders, the donators, the volunteers who came together to provide the facility like no other.
Too many to list, he told of large corporate sponsors like MARS Canada, and large local sponsors, like Garden Foods of South Bolton.
David and Marty Graham, of Inglewood. Long known as two of the pioneers of the village, and notable figures in Caledon, simply blew his mind one day, Laskin said.
“In 2010, they dropped into our office, unannounced and provided us with a very large donation. They told us they wanted the donation to go to the lowest rung on the priority ladder, they wanted it to go to food, and supportive housing,” he said. A simple interaction turned into meetings, continuous meetings.
“I would get hounded by one, or both of them,” Laskin joked. “Asking what am I doing.”
Laskin credited the pair with spurring on him and his staff to begin to chase the dream of The Exchange.
Soon after, he said, another surprise phone call made a dream become reality.
“Solmar Development Corporation phoned my office and said they had read an article in one of the Caledon newspapers after they had dropped in to support the Santa Fund with a very generous donation, then a few months later, Maurizio Rogato and Giuseppe Paolicelli dropped in, we secured a meeting with Solmar president Benny Marotta, that turned into more meetings, and eventually they said give us your plans, we’ll take care of it.”
“We saw it, and we couldn’t get settled with it,” he said. “We knew we could do something, and after talking about it, we decided let’s just do it. Let’s just make sure the entire project gets done.”
Laskin said it’s beyond exciting how far the company was willing to go.
“They didn’t flinch. They rallied trades, suppliers and took care of site supervision for well over a year and a half. Their leadership, and their generosity was absolutely critical.”
“We’re proud to partner with the community and deliver a revolutionary food experience,” Rogato said.
Laksin also credited architects, volunteers, trades workers, the list was as extensive as the services his staff now see taking place at the Exchange. Finally, he credited the people on the ground, his staff, his donors, his volunteers and everyone who lifted a hand to drive in a nail – literally or figuratively.
The day was a halt in a town ripe with debates on development, growth, futures and pasts. It was a moment, where so many members of the community came together, acted with diplomacy and shared in order to exchange with others.
“You look at the wall out there, and everyone who has got involved in this thing, we were first, but we were minor, the way all these people got on side, we’re very happy for Monty today,” David Graham said, enjoying his soup and tea during the Exchanges provided lunch.
“To see the completion of a dream, and so well done, it’s just worth every day we’ve spent,” said Marty Graham, her soup bowl empty – her heart a little bit full.