A journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step, goes a popular Chinese saying.
For Lindsay VanderHoek, Community Life Manager at Mission Possible, offering healthy snacks or collaborating with an urban farm is exactly that: baby steps towards the bigger goal of empowering the community she serves to make healthier food choices.
Mission Possible helps Vancouver’s homeless and poor find meaningful work, and purpose in life through service to others.
“We have a community co-op program. The idea is that in order to be a member of the co-op, you have to volunteer a certain number of hours each month, either with us, or other organizations and social enterprises around here,” explains Lindsay.
Preparing and serving food at co-op meals is one way to give back to the community and accumulate volunteer hours. However, being able to supply co-op members with not just with food, but healthy food, is a difficult task for an organization that relies almost entirely on food donations.
The majority of their food stock comes from Safeway’s twice-weekly donations. Mission Possible has no input on the specific food donations, so they often find themselves offering pastries and donuts to co-op members. Not exactly the most nourishing fair. But Mission Possible tries to provide healthy choices when they can, says Lindsay.
“We started putting out fresh veggie and fruit snacks, too – to give people a choice. Diabetics were very grateful for that, but it was also well received by a lot of other people. Especially when you cut up the fruits or veggies. If you offer pieces of apple, that goes a lot faster, than just putting a whole apple on the table.”
About two years ago, Mission Possible also started offering volunteer work with Red Clover Farm, an urban farming project located in the heart of the Downtown Eastside near Hastings & Jackson.
Although the farm isn’t Mission Possible’s primary source of food, every now and then some of its vegetables or herbs find their way to mealtime at Mission Possible’s community co-op gatherings.
“It’s a really nice touch when that happens,” says Lindsay. “And there is that sense of pride and ownership that people get when we offer food from Red Clover farm. As soon as we mention that the food they are eating today comes straight from the farm, they go ‘Yes, this comes from our garden.’”
Long-term, she hopes more volunteers will get involved with Red Clover farm and more urban farming projects will come on board. Lindsay knows it will be a slow process: Slow, but hopefully steady.
“Raising awareness of food security issues and how to eat healthy is a big part. Awareness is always the beginning of real change.”