The Stop has pioneered a transformation from a traditional charity-model food bank to a new, empowerment model of ‘community food centre’.
Under the leadership of its recently retired CEO, Nick Saul, the Stop has pioneered a transformation from a traditional charity-model food bank, that distributes (often inferior quality) food on an emergency basis to people on low incomes, to a new, human rights-based, empowerment model of ‘community food centre’.
Its mission is "to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality." The Stop responds directly to the immediate needs of residents, in terms of providing dignified access to good food; however it has a strong focus on the structural causes of food insecurity and food poverty. It builds skills in food growing, preparation, cooking, and preserving; and works with its clients to build levels of food literacy, and their capacity to become advocates in their own right to address pressing social issues that drive food insecurity, such as the cost of housing, transport, welfare benefit levels and low wages.
The Stop has transformed the lives of the people who work, volunteer and use its services; and it has inspired a new vision of 'community food centres' in Canada, transitioning away from the traditional charity model of food banks.
Background and objectives
The Stop was founded in the early 1980s at St Stephen in the Fields Parish, as one of Canada's first food banks. In common with the food bank sector, it was established as a temporary, emergency entity to address what was thought to be a temporary problem of food insecurity. Food insecurity, however, has only increased, to the point in 2014 where Toronto has an estimated child poverty rate of 30%. Food banks have mushroomed as has demand for their services. Hence former CEO Nick Saul's conviction that food banks have in many ways become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, insofar as their very existence as a bandaid measure to food poverty masks the need to tackle the underlying structural causes: high housing costs, low welfare benefit rates, poverty wages and precarious employment, amongst others. This is why he and his team set about the transformation of the Stop into an empowerment-focused community food centre, beginning in the early 2000s.
The Stop has two locations: a main office at 1884 Davenport Road where staff provide frontline services to the local community, including a drop-in, food bank, perinatal program, community action program, bake ovens and markets, community cooking, community advocacy, sustainable food systems education and urban agriculture. The Stop’s Green Barn, located in the Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie Street, is a sustainable food production and education centre that houses a state-of-the-art greenhouse, food systems education programs, a sheltered garden, our Global Roots Garden, community bake oven and compost demonstration centre.
Financing and resources
The Stop receives its funding from a range of sources, as follows (2014):
Results and impacts
- Community Advocates 'provide a variety of material and informational supports to community members', helping them resolve the issues they were facing, principally concerning welfare benefits, housing, mental health and medical issues, and legal matters
- Service Users highly valued the peer nature of the Advocates - that they were from the community they were serving- as well as the dignified and respectful way in which they were treated
- the Advocates themselves reported benefits such as gaining new skills and knowledge, social networks and friendships, enhanced confidence, and a sense of satisfaction in undertaking meaningful work for their community.
Barriers and challenges
In the first years of its transformation to becoming a Community Food Centre, the Stop experienced a number of internal conflicts with long-time volunteers, who were comfortable with the traditional charity approach to emergency food relief, and didn't like the new approach that Nick Saul was trying to achieve. These tensions led to some volunteers leaving, but they did not deflect the organisation from its transition; the strong support of the Board for Saul's vision was important in this being achieved.
Lessons learned and transferability
The Stop has shown that the traditional food bank charity model does not have to replicated and further entrenched, year after year. The vision of Nick Saul, founded on the conviction that the human right to adequate food can be made real and meaningful for every person, has driven forward a transformation in how the emergency food relief sector can conceive of itself. Everywhere across the global north, demand for food banks is rising, as inequality increases and austerity budgets cut further into public services and welfare benefit provision. The need for powerful advocacy from those most affected by these processes is overwhelming, and the Stop has shown how this can be achieved. Its model is eminently transferable to any culturally and socio-economically comparable context, especially the United States, Britain and Australia.