Food brings people of all ages together. It’s a simple premise that a non-profit group focusing on community arts development of homeless and marginalized youth, is banking on when it comes to its culinary arts program.
SKETCH operates its culinary arts program three times a week for four ten-week sessions and has been doing so for the past two years. The program prepares and serves fresh, healthy lunches and dinners before its two blocks of arts programming in the afternoon and in the evening.
For SKETCH, food is a point of contact for marginalized youth to participate in the arts programs offered.
“The idea is we’re quite mindful of the fact that there are many organizations out there that offer great services to young people, but they may not provide the food. And for SKETCH the food is often the entry point for a lot of the people that come here,” said Dale Roy, marketing and communications associate with SKETCH.
“I often hear young people say there’s great organizations that help, but where’s the food? So what we do is we make sure that need is taken off the table when they come to SKETCH.”
The culinary arts program serves roughly 5,000 meals a year to more than 800 young people, Roy said. The program runs strictly on donations from the community and support from funders, and costs roughly $10,000 a year to keep afloat. It currently receives in kind donations from Macgregors Meats, Second Harvest and Fresh City Farms, among others.
Young people who come to SKETCH, at 180 Shaw St., head to its lower level and help themselves to a buffet-style meal with vegetarian and vegan options. Nut-free and often dairy and gluten-free options are offered as well.
The goal of the program is to get youth in the door and flexing their creative muscles in music, visual arts, or dance. But it’s also about boosting confidence in the kitchen and breaking down food barriers by offering cooking workshops, said Justin Richardson, the culinary arts program co-ordinator.
“We want people to engage and get them behind the counter and pick up a knife and start working and get involved in the food production process they see happening throughout the week,” Richardson said.
“What we’ve noticed is the people coming into the workshops are more interested on learning how to better feed themselves at home or brush up on their kitchen skills or have fun with food.”
With that in mind, SKETCH decided to offer culinary classes. Youths can learn how to make bread, hot sauce or salsa from scratch.
Richardson and his team, which consists of two kitchen associates, Kumari Giles and Ezekiel Rasheed, and a handful of youth volunteers, try to educate participants on food security and knowledge as prices of fruits and veggies rise. It’s equally important to educate them on how to stretch their dollar at the grocery store.
According to an annual report conducted by the Food Institute at the University of Guelph last year, the cost of fruits and vegetables increased by between 9.1 and 10.1 per cent. The study also predicts prices will continue to rise above inflation for some items by 4.5 per cent in 2016.
“There’s a large socio-economic disparity as to who is educated and who is not when it comes to food knowledge, and even further than that there’s a large gap on who can access healthy food and who can’t,” Richardson said.
“Cheap foods are inexpensive and healthy foods are expensive. So learning and knowing how easy it is to throw things together can break down that first barrier between people and healthy eating.”
The culinary program has a three-pronged process: education, production and enterprise. The production process gets participants into the kitchen preparing food for those coming in before programming. From there, the youth can move to enterprise, which entails possible catering jobs that SKETCH helps set up.
But it all starts with that first meal.
“The meal is a welcome, it’s a hug, it’s a place where you can feel comfortable and safe,” Richardson said.
“There’s something visceral about smelling something cooking and you know that’s for you. It helps them realize it’s also a place for you.”
May is food month at SKETCH, a campaign to help #feedcreativity. Donations are being accepted at sketch.ca/donate