Community Spotlight: The Stop CFC Drop-in Program

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Healthy, fresh ingredients are an integral part of The Stop’s community meals.

Located in Toronto’s west end, The Stop Community Food Centre strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality. This season, Yorkshire Valley Farms is proud to support The Stop through the donation of organic whole turkeys to be served as part of the Drop-in Program holiday meals. We chatted with Scott MacNeil, Community Chef at The Stop, about the Drop-in Program’s impact on the community, what inspired him to become a Chef, and what’s on the menu for the holidays.

What is the Drop-in Program?
The Stop Community Food Centre’s Drop-in is a safe and welcoming space where anyone, regardless of where they live, can enjoy nutritious food, meet others, and access information on social issues and community resources. Breakfast and lunch are served four days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays). On Wednesdays, the Drop-in hosts The Stop’s Healthy Beginnings program, for pregnant women and new mothers.

The Stop’s Drop-in offers: services in partnership with other agencies, including an ID clinic, housing and legal services, a settlement worker, and dietetic counselling; workshops on tenants’ and employment rights; and demonstrations on how to make low-cost, healthy, delicious meals.

How many meals do you serve each year?
Last year, The Stop served more than 53,000 meals in the Drop-in.

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Community Chef Scott MacNeil in action preparing meals for the Drop-in Program.

What first inspired you to become a Chef?
It’s difficult to name one single inspiration for becoming a Chef. I cook because my mother and father made delicious food when I was growing up, always hosting dinners with friends and feeding my brothers and I well. My mother was an expert at shopping on a budget. I cook because when I was in grade 8 and was on our Quebec City school trip I ate carrot soup, and pate, and other foods that tasted better than anything I had ever had. I cook because I was not feeling fulfilled working at a desk and I wanted to work with my hands creating something immediately tangible, with immediate results. Most of all I became a Chef because I like to please people and make them happy.

How long have you worked with The Stop?
I have been at The Stop Community Food Centre for 6 years now.

What’s on the menu for the holiday meal?
We have a number of holiday meals planned. For the Christmas dinner, we will be serving dry-brined, roasted turkey with a sage butter. Stovetop stuffing, since in order to cook 15 turkeys, I need to cut them up first. Mashed potatoes and rutabaga (a personal favourite). We are also making cider glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts (maybe), of course gravy, our house made Stop sourdough bread, and for dessert, sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce.

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Community members share a meal.

Can you share a great ‘food moment’ that expresses the impact of the Drop-in?
I remember my first day cooking a meal at The Stop. It was the summer, August, which tends to be our busiest month of the year in terms of meals served. When we brought the food out to the Drop-in for service, the mood was tense. It was past mid-month and folks were well past the point of having any money for food, since their rent probably took the bulk of their money for the month, leaving them with basically nothing. A very stressful and disheartening situation made worse by the desperate feeling we can all relate to of not having any food energy to face your day. We started serving the meal, I think it was lasagna with Caesar salad and garlic bread, and something wild happened. The room, which had been loud and aggressive a minute before, became quiet. And for the next hour we served out that food while people ate and left, and were replaced by other diners. I received a few smiles and one or two compliments for the food, which is a good day here, as we have some harsh critics to be sure. I was struck by the power of food to change people’s mood, and their energy levels to deal with whatever the day was going to throw at them. It was a powerful moment for me to see, in a radically different way than in a restaurant, the effect my food could have on someone.

We’re obviously big fans of organic poultry here at Yorkshire Valley Farms. Can you share some of the your favourite ways to prepare chicken?
Being budget-minded, when shopping for myself I like to buy the whole chicken and roast it with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, or herb salt (that we make here at The Stop). I stuff a halved lemon, fresh thyme and sage, rosemary, and garlic cloves in the cavity and roast it on high for 30 minutes, then lower the temperature to about 325°F for another 45 minutes, or more if needed. I will usually throw some potatoes, onions, carrots, and whatever other vegetable I feel like under the chicken before I cook it. You have a nice one-pan dinner. Then I pick all the meat off the bones, make a stock with them, which will become soup the next day. The remaining meat will become a pasta dish, or a Thai coconut curry, or a chicken and kale Caesar wrap for lunch.

I would also say that one of my all-time favourite chicken dishes is Chasseur, or Hunter’s chicken. I first made it in chef school in Niagara College, and remember thinking it was the best thing I had ever cooked in my life.

To learn more about The Stop, visit http://www.thestop.org/

Photos courtesy of The Stop CFC.

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