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Voices from "Out of the Cold" : autoethnographic community-based action research of a free meal program Chu, Mei Yu Queenie

Abstract

My first observation of the "Out of the Cold" (OOC) weekly meals and shelter program organized by the Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver, BC, is that it is increasingly crowded. What feeds into this specific crowd and into the global picture of malnutrition and poverty? In part, decreasing public services and increasing cost of living exacerbate social problems associated with unemployment. Private and political institutions also influence food security and environmental integrity. With criticisms against charities, is OOC a valid way to help people? Yes and no. No, because there are signs of user dependency and of public safety net falling related to the emergence of privately organized relief. Yes, because many people do not have the resources to free themselves from whatever entraps them in poverty. Community development projects require participants to have a basic level of stability and hope for the future that many do not have. It is a place for some of the most vulnerable people in our society including the mentally and physically ill, homeless, addicts, and elderly. People who come to OOC value the good food in a hassle-free atmosphere that provides opportunity for social connection. To them, good food means safe, nutritious, tasty, appetizing, and choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian. At the Crossroads Drop-in house that oversees OOC, organizers have opportunities for further connections and empowerment, but OOC can also develop empowering activities such as a participant advisory committee (PAC) that was formed during this Community- Based Action Research study. This PAC dealt with overcrowding by adding the use of a hallway for the overflow crowd and by limiting line-ups that take up floor space. Other ideas for empowering individuals and educating the public include food preparation and service training, community kitchens, buying directly from local farmers, community gardening, composting/recycling, networking with other programs, liaising with government authorities, volunteer training, and follow-up of non-returning volunteers. The methods used in this study are Autoethnographic and Community-based Action Research with Trans-disciplinary Re-contextualization discussions. Considering OOC in its contexts leads to the question, "How would OOC look if long-term sustainable food security for everyone equitably were a goal?"

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