Food For Good Is Sherbourne Health’s Answer To Rising Local Hunger

Six pictures of people and food on a brown paper background, with a sticker of Sherbourne Health's Food for Good logo centered.

Choosing between going hungry or paying rent. Parents skipping meals so children can eat. Grocery budgets stretched thin on a regular basis.  

These harsh realities became more common in recent years, as the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to unprecedented levels of food insecurity in Toronto.  

Missing out on affordable, nutritious food takes a toll on physical health, mental wellbeing, and your sense of belonging. As a health care provider, we understand the long-term issues food insecurity can cause – diabetes, heart disease, depression, and a shorter life expectancy are just a few of the outcomes. With this understanding, we knew that we needed to find a way to expand our services to address hunger and food insecurity.  

Thanks to our Food for Good initiative, Sherbourne is working towards ensuring our service users and our broader community have better access to healthy, culturally relevant food, community, and opportunities to nurture themselves. 

People In Our Communities Are More Food Insecure Than the Average Torontonian 

Today, one in five Toronto homes are food insecure, meaning they don’t have easy access to affordable, nutritious food. The less money you make, the higher your risk for food insecurity, and in our neighborhoods, many struggle with affording basic needs. Our primary site at 333 Sherbourne Street is in the heart of Moss Park–a vibrant, often overlooked area where one in 10 people earn less than $10,000 annually, double the citywide average in Toronto. 

We also serve St. James Town, a diverse and highly dense area where many newcomer families call home. Compared to the average Torontonian, St. James Town residents are twice as likely to be on social assistance; both St. James Town and Moss Park residents are also twice as likely to be low-income.

Sherbourne Health provides care for these mid-east Toronto neighbourhoods, as well as our priority populations: homeless and under-housed people, 2SLGBTQ people, and newcomers. Extensive research finds that all of these groups also face inequities that make them especially vulnerable to food insecurity.   

Food for Good Addresses Immediate Hunger, Long-Term Nutrition  

Two years ago, we created the Food for Good initiative in response to an overwhelming need for food from our neighborhoods throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Through it, we asked ourselves, “What role can a health care organization take in dismantling local food insecurity?” Turns out, it was a good question to ask at the onset of noticeable job losses and economic downturn, one that we found multiple ways to answer. 

One of Food for Good’s objectives is to provide healthy food options to those in need. To do that, we make sure all our service users – from those accessing harm reduction supplies on our Health Bus to the attendees of our programs – can take home something to eat, free-of-charge. 

In 2021, we helped distribute:  

  • 28,000+ nutritious homecooked meals from diverse cuisines. These dishes were made by newcomer women working for the St. James Catering Collective, which we supported with volunteers and financial support. 
  • 1,420+ Food hampers filled with fresh produce and essentials, for both our service users and our neighbours in need. Generous donations of produce from FoodShare Toronto were a tremendous help, especially when need was at its highest in 2020. 
  • 490 Healthy snacks and packed lunches. In collaboration with our dietitians, these are available for anyone who joins our in-person programs, people using the Health Bus, and those accessing harm reduction supplies through our STASH program.  
  • 500+ Grocery/gift cards, for both our service users and our neighbours in need. 

 Anyone who uses our services can ask their program leader or intake worker to access Food for Good. Low-barrier food assistance like these supports take more than just one organization to pull off. Thanks to generous community, foundation and corporate partners, we’re able to reach more people looking for assistance.  

A green background photo compilation, behind statistics on Food for Good's 2021 accomplishments.

Nurturing health is another goal of Food for Good, which we do through educational opportunities like our diabetes support program or virtual cooking lessons.  

Since food is a communal experience that brings us together, we invite people to our virtual dinner table by hosting regular food programming that often includes grocery gift cards for attendees. 

Future Growth for Food for Good 

Food banks and free meals are helpful but aren’t the only ways to increase food security. A large part of that involves empowering people to take ownership over what they eat, by providing them the means to do so. 

We have in the works three physical places centered around creating opportunities, connecting people, and building stronger communities: a cafe-turned-social-enterprise; a rooftop garden bursting with hand-grown greens; and a community kitchen to develop culinary skills among new friends. 

These are big projects we’re envisioning. This high-level commitment to accessible nutrition draws on our deep roots in urban health; decades of seeing the social determinants of health in action have impressed upon us how intertwined food security is to promoting physical and mental health within our communities. 

For more stories like this and to keep conversations on food going, connect with us on Twitter: @shcToronto

In order to cultivate these spaces and to keep providing our ongoing services of food hampers, meals, and nutrition programs, Food for Good relies on our community partners and charitable donations. To support Sherbourne Health’s Food for Good initiative, visit https://sherbourne.on.ca/get-involved/donate/