Nourish the body, mind and soul at Caledon’s Exchange

  • The Exchange

Caledon Enterprise
By Kay MacDuffee/Country Roads

For the past couple of weeks all eyes have been on Sochi, as we lived, breathed and dreamed about ‘faster, stronger, braver’ – men and women in a class of their own called Olympians. It was as if the gods themselves, on Mt. Olympus, had anointed these rare creatures.

There was an element of magic in it all. Not just for the athletes, but for all of us. We were united, cheering when they won, empathizing when they didn’t, and cringing when they fell. We felt it all, from a distance, and it connected us – in our offices, our classrooms, and our living rooms. The beautiful camaraderie of those athletes spilled over into our hearts and we were one.

And then it was over.

Back to the ‘daily grind’? Back to being muggles? Not necessarily.

There is a whole new magical destination that has opened in Bolton, with so many possibilities to enrich and connect our lives and our community. What? Where? How?

Welcome to The Exchange! A haven for nurturing the body, mind and soul of the community, no matter what.
It bloomed and grew out of Caledon Community Services’ (CCS) Crisis and Counseling program.

There was no food bank in Caledon, and moreover no staff, funding or space for one. But CCS has a dynamic duo in CEO, Monty Laskin, and Community Resources Director, Michelle Stubbs. They had a vision for a community hub, not just for hungry families, but a social destination for everyone.

And so they began – around the table, with clients, asking for input. What are your challenges? How can we make this a reciprocal arrangement with dignity for all?

The response was clear. Rather than a box of packaged goods handed out, clients wished to choose the items they needed, they hoped for fresh produce, education and the removal of stigma.

The CCS team brought in partners – Mars Canada, Garden Foods, Topac, United Way of Peel Region and several Caledon agencies working in collaboration. Farmers and food distributors delivered excess food.

Clients would receive care, counseling and groceries along with information on nutrition, and classes on how to plant, preserve and even prepare gourmet meals. In return they would agree to monthly visits and to offering an ‘engaged responsibility’ toward The Exchange.

But food and nutritional support is only one component of The Exchange. The staff is inviting the community to come in with a team and use their spectacular boardroom for a meeting, then cook lunch together in their equally spectacular and well-equipped community kitchen.

Or come for a yoga class and go make juice together. Share your experiences; learn more about each other.

Reciprocate in any way you wish. This is the concept of ‘exchange’. Would you like to volunteer in the grocery department? Is there a class you might be willing to offer?

I glanced at the February and March calendar of upcoming activities and workshops and saw: knitting/crocheting classes, resume workshops, Gluten on a Budget, Sit fit & Cook for One, Ben’s Beginners (family cooking with the senior chef from Mars), Harvesting Hope (offered by Peace Ranch) and Learn Spanish all for free!

“I don’t see us as a food bank /social services agency,” Michelle Stubbs explains. “We want to create real synergy in community organizations in a integrated space. We want leaders in all demographics – engaging seniors and youth. Seniors can cook; youth want to learn to cook.”

She added, “I’d like to see this place crammed with people, everyday!”

The building already has a warm, welcoming, spacious energy, partly because of its construction (large rooms, glass walls, bright colours, upbeat music) and partly because of the staff. There’s a play area for children, office space with computer, always coffee, and each time I’ve been there someone is baking cookies.

The focus here is that it be an ‘exchange’ of ideas, experiences and resources. Although one very important goal is to “decrease the number of hungry families in Caledon and provide them with the nutritional resources that will improve their health and wellness, increase their development opportunities and move them out of poverty,” explains Monty Laskin.

He calls it ‘a merging of poverty and privilege’.

Developing a relationship with local farmers is a top priority this year, according to Stubbs.

“In fact, we’re at a stage where nothing is not on the table. If you have an idea, I’m sure there’s a way.”

And that’s the kind of openhearted energy that surges through this new enterprise. The enthusiasm is catching. A longtime friend told me that she volunteers there because it makes her feel good. And I must admit that each time I go, I leave pumped.

Laskin and Stubbs (the dynamic duo) want us to think of the Exchange as a ‘communal kitchen where we will come to the table to share a meal with our neighbours, have a conversation, learn and participate’.

This is community building. This is oneness. This is the magic.

Drop in at 55 Healey Rd, (formerly Chez Thrift ) open Mon. to Fri., 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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