06/09/2013 08:52 EDT | Updated 08/09/2013 05:12 EDT

How Community Kitchens Help Canadian Families

Health Canada estimates that the annual cost to Canadians of unhealthy eating is $6.3 billion. Statistics Canada tells us the number of annual deaths in Canada due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes is over 72,000.

It gets worse: a Canadian Community Health Survey found it is the lower income groups who have and suffer higher rates of these diet-related illnesses.

Recently, I attended a community kitchens program coordinated and maintained by Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) at The Stop in Toronto. During my day at The Stop, we cut, peeled, sliced and cooked a broad variety of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. Working with renowned chef Lynn Crawford and Nick Saul, President and CEO of the CFCC, we made delicious salads, main courses and desserts. As I learned, the program is simple; the participants plan a meal, pitch in for the cost of groceries, prepare and cook together and leave with portions of fresh, healthy foods for themselves and their families.

community kitchens canada

However, it is what lies beneath the surface of this program that makes it truly inspirational. It is an education on healthy food purchasing and preparation from scratch. It's also an exposure to new foods and spices, camaraderie among the participants and the creation of a social network within their communities. The result is improved health, a greater understanding of the benefits and effects of the foods we consume, improved personal confidence and, for some, an end to personal isolation.

It is these deeper benefits of the CFCC's program that inspired Ultima Foods to create the "iögo, supporting goodness" initiative to bring attention to the mission and involvement of community kitchens in Canada. Our goal is simple: to help people discover, or become more familiar with, the essential role community kitchens play across the country.

The statistics I listed off the top are the only some of the issues that drive CFCC. Additionally they strive to put an end to food insecurity, poverty and encourage its beneficiaries to have a voice in their community and increase their civic engagement.

The CFCC provides ideas, resources and a proven approach to partner with community organizations across Canada to help them establish responsive, financially stable community food centres. These centres strive to meet the most basic food needs of low-income Canadians while combating diet-related illness, reducing social isolation, and supporting local agriculture.

As a Canadian company, we are supporting a Canadian solution. Ultima Foods is contributing financially to the activities of CFCC's work through The Stop in Toronto and two other community kitchens in Quebec. We are also committed to support the start-up of community kitchens in other markets, soon to be announced. Among other initiatives we are bringing greater attention to CFCC on a national level with awareness campaigns on television and online.

This is a call to action to Canadians and all levels of the food industry to contribute to making a change that makes a difference. To learn more about the CFCC, its mission and successes I urge you to visit To view videos and testimonials from community kitchen participants visitögo. Together, we can create healthy communities that thrive and grow. That's real change.

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