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JILL ELLSWORTH: Bringing people together for good: The Big Social

Now Atlantic Belle DeMont Big Social
- Belle DeMont

From November 1-10, hundreds of Canadians hosted meals in their homes and businesses to raise awareness and funds in an effort to combat food insecurity across the country. The Big Social, a fundraising campaign launched by Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC), has been such a success that hosts and organizers are already counting down the days until next year.

The Big Social was developed as a way to bring Canadians together to enjoy a meal while making a difference in the lives of those struggling with poverty and food insecurity. Hosts signed up online, set a fundraising goal, invited guests to their event, and collected donations while enjoying great food and company.

Nick Saul, CEO of CFCC, says the Big Social is a reflection of the work CFCC does each and every day. The national non-profit runs programs that help thousands of people across the country access healthy food, improve their health, and become less isolated. “The foundation of what we do is bringing people together around food,” explains Saul. “The entire idea of the Big Social was to spur people on to come together and get engaged with this conversation of food-insecurity in Canada.”

Over the ten day period, more than 400 hosts held events in their homes, businesses, schools, and community centres, raising over $150,000 for CFCC. Thanks to the support of some key sponsors, Saul says the total raised was $375,000 which will have a direct impact on improving the lives of people in our country. 

A role to play

Aimée Wimbush-Bourque, award-winning food writer and former chef, hosted a cozy harvest lunch in Halifax, Nova Scotia for her Big Social event and says she can’t wait to host again next year. An advocate for zero-waste cooking and zero-hunger in Canada, Wimbush-Bourque says getting involved with the Big Social was a no brainer.

“As soon as I heard about the campaign I knew I wanted to host something even if it was small because every effort counts” Wimbush-Bourque says. “Food insecurity is still such a big problem here in Canada, yet hunger is one of our most solvable challenges. I think helping create a food-secure community begins with recognizing one thing: we all have a role to play.”

Wimbush-Bourque held a Friday lunch in a fabulous Hydrostone loft space loaned to her for the occasion and says although they weren’t a large group, her attendees shared a lovely meal together and exceeded her fundraising goal.

Next year, Wimbush-Bourque plans to bring on a few more helpers and aim for a much bigger event. “I’m incredibly thankful for the work that goes on at Community Food Centres across Canada,” she says. “They deserve our support.”

- Belle DeMont
- Belle DeMont

Community first

Chef Barry Mooney, Culinary Management instructor at Nova Scotia Community College also hosted a Big Social Event, raising $2,000 for the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre. After running a few cooking demonstrations at the Centre, Mooney heard about the Big Social and was excited to join and support the cause.

“In this industry,” he explains. “It is important to understand food insecurity and how not being able to access the food you need can impact an individual’s physical and mental health as well as their sense of belonging.”

Mooney says faculty at NSCC place a focus on community engagement and the Big Social was the perfect way to allow students to get involved in a great initiative while expanding their learning experience. The second year Culinary Management class produced a tasting menu for the evening, while the Hospitality students, led by Garth Brown, researched and prepared menu-based knowledge and service. Mooney says both classes made their instructors proud and earned a well-deserved standing ovation from attendees following their event.

For Mooney, the event was an opportunity to share his passion for food while educating others on the problem of food insecurity in Canada. “As a culinary instructor I feel I have an opportunity to properly inform the next generation of chefs who can continue to make a difference,” he says.

Entertain some good

As the CEO of CFCC, Saul says he couldn’t expect others to participate in the Big Social if he didn’t lead by example, which is why he hosted an event of his own bringing together family and friends in a night of celebration and awareness. Saul says he is lucky to have great friends who are even greater cooks, which made hosting a potluck style dinner a real treat. Saul and his wife asked each guest to bring a dish that was meaningful to them.

“My wife and I fell in love over the artichoke,” he says. “She had never seen a fresh one before so I brought some over and steamed them with a nice lemon and butter sauce on the side. It was love at first bite. That’s why we served artichokes three ways to start during our Big Social event.” Saul’s friends from the Philippines served a traditional dish of Pansit which reminded them of home, while another couple brought a pizzole, the same dish they had made together on one of their first dates. “We each talked about our dishes and why they were meaningful and then had an incredible meal together talking about everything under the sun,” Saul shares. “That’s what the Big Social is all about. Let’s enjoy some good food, but also spend important time with our friends.”

Looking forward to next year, Saul hopes the campaign will continue to grow and raise even more money for this important cause. “More than four million Canadians are food insecure. However you slice it, this is a significant issue and it all comes back to the fact that people don’t have enough income,” says Saul. “Wages, benefits, housing, retirement, these are issues that we need to look at collectively and the more people who are aware of it, the more potential that they will engage and move in ways that support the many, not just the few.” 

Jill Ellsworth is a lover of handwritten letters, bottomless tea, and contributing to the chaos.

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