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Emergency food program receives $15K from Shopify

The 519 Community Collective feeds those on the streets, in encampments, and seniors who live in motels

Every weekend, the 519 Community Collective (519 CC) feeds over 200 vulnerable residents. The generosity of local donors has kept the program successfully running. Still, the collective has struggled with finding space to safely store the donations they receive.

Shopify, who has been supplying the group with "kitchen and takeout items" for some time, has just upped the ante: a donation of $15,000 worth of commercial-grade kitchen equipment.

"They have been an incredible help to us," said 519 CC founder Julie Sawatzky. On May 22, 2021, she and her team took delivery of “a side-by-side stainless steel freezer and a side-by-side sliding door refrigerator.”  

Since the beginning of 2020, Sawatzky's team has headed out to different locations in the region every day - offering food, clothing, bedding and toiletries. Pre-pandemic, "nearly 4.5 million Canadians struggled to put good food on the table," according to the Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC). "In the first two months of the pandemic," the number of Canadians affected by food insecurity nearly doubled, affecting 1 in 7 people.

Shopify's generous donation will help in “a huge way.”

"We have had to bring items back and forth, and [it's] such a pain. We need a lot of space to store food, prepare food and keep frozen meats. This is just so huge for us."

The 519 CC - named for its origin in Kitchener, Ontario - consists of 11 community-driven entrepreneurs (along with many volunteers) who aim to help combat food insecurity in Waterloo Region. Through emergency hampers and street-level outreach, along with providing access to little free pantries and a frozen meal program, the group works around the clock to feed those in need. Most recently, two community gardens were added to support the program.

The community collective is built on the ideology that small steps can create significant change. Every month, 150-200 hampers are assembled in Sawatzky's garage "to feed those on the streets, in encampments, and seniors who live in motels."

Seventeen little free pantry locations were created to allow access to 24-hour "no questions asked" nutrition. All of the locations were positioned in areas of the community where the need is more significant.

To help build awareness, Sawatzky created a Facebook group that quickly grew from a few members to over 6,000. "Our programs have blown up, and we are now supporting hundreds of people every single month,” she said.

The produce from the 519 Community urban gardens goes straight into the program. Currently, there are two garden locations: 365 Linden Drive in Cambridge and on May 19, 2021, Sawatzky picked up the keys to their second location at "the corner of Park and Glasgow, behind KCI (Kitchener Collegiate Institute)."

Right now, the little free farm stands at both garden locations are open two days a week. Sawatzky told Kitchener Today she plans to add fresh produce as often as they can “for folks to access freely.”

The appliances in their new kitchen, located at Immanuel Pentecostal Church, will allow them to safely cook all of their urban meals, and outreach food according to public health standards.

"It also gives us more room for opportunities to feed people, as space is larger and more equipped," she said. "Folks need it now more than ever. Once you have seen it, you cannot look away. I want to provide a legacy for my children and raise them to be the next generation of leaders. Our entire admin team is dedicated - we all just love giving."

The group is always looking for volunteers and donations. To find out more, head to their Facebook page.

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