The Collingwood Youth Centre will be opening a few different doors to the public this weekend.
On March 26, the non-profit will be holding an open house to coincide with the unveiling and official opening of Collingwood’s first-ever community fridge, freezer and pantry through Project Butterfly, which has been constructed on the centre property as a low-barrier method to address food insecurity in Collingwood.
The fridge, freezer and pantry project was the brainchild of Collingwood resident Ash Smith, who brought the idea to the centre in late 2021.
“Mostly online, I had seen these in Toronto, New York and all over the place, and I figured this would be a good thing to have here too,” said Smith. “There is a massive population of low-income or homeless people who could use it. I was really low-income growing up.”
Smith recalls one time close to Christmas, she and her mom received a food box that contained only cans of tuna.
“My mom and I are vegetarians,” said Smith, with a laugh. “This is a way to provide food security with dignity. If people are embarrassed about (accessing it), they have options too.”
While other food pantry programs do exist in Collingwood such as through the Collingwood Public Library, St. Vincent DePaul and the Salvation Army, the youth centre project is the first that will be open 24/7 and works on an honour system where anyone wishing to donate can drop food off and food can be accessed at any time of day.
Smith says she had approached many locations asking if anyone would be willing to host the community fridge project.
“She had been knocking on doors and kept being turned down left, right and centre,” said Lea Pankhurst, Collingwood Youth Centre manager. “She asked for help in finding a location, not necessarily here, but was looking for guidance. She already had someone who was willing to donate the fridge and two volunteers who would build the pantry.”
“It turned out we could house it,” said Pankhurst.
Once the centre signed on, the newly formed Collingwood Youth Council also worked to gather donations in support of the project.
“There’s a lot of homelessness in Collingwood. It’s a really big issue. Now, people who don’t have food, can come get food,” said Nathan Frank, a member of the Collingwood Youth Council. “I have an aunt who was homeless. She didn’t have food. It hits home for me.”
All the construction materials to house the fridge, freezer and pantry were donated by Home Depot in Collingwood. Grady Electric helped with getting the proper servicing, and The W Foundation also provided some funding.
The main pantry is located beside the side entrance of the Collingwood Youth Centre. Smith has organized a team of volunteers who will check the pantry three times daily to clean and evaluate if expired items should be removed, or if more need to be purchased or added through monetary donations. Should the pantry get too full, there is also an excess donation box near the centre’s front door, and the centre can store overflow inside their building.
Fresh produce grown in the youth centre’s two community garden projects near Centennial Pool and Sunset Point will also be harvested and put in the pantry and fridge in the summer months.
“We wanted to create this network of different pieces to help around food insecurity,” said Pankhurst. “We’ve seen this struggle not just with youth or seniors, but just day-to-day in the community. We wanted to create this big-picture project that can help people.”
They will also be bringing overflow food to share with other food pantries in Collingwood.
Pankhurst says the need in Collingwood for this type of program is big.
“We have some deeper conversations where family situations are changing. Based on most recent statistics coming off the back of COVID-19, people are struggling more and the cost of food has gone up,” he said. “People are proud. They don’t want to say they’re struggling. This takes away that stigma.”
“We work with youth, but we want to help the community at large,” he added.
In addition to the opening of the community fridge, freezer and pantry, the open house on Saturday will also showcase the different programs and opportunities for youth at the centre.
The Collingwood Youth Centre doors were opened in November 2017 as a collaboration between the Town of Collingwood, The Environment Network, Elephant Thoughts Educational Outreach, and the Rotary Club of Collingwood – Southern Georgian Bay.
The centre offers a variety of programs for area youth such as their film club, their Kids Feeding Kids program, sports, technology and LGBTQ+ clubs.
If you would like to provide a monetary donation in support of Project Butterfly, contact Lea Pankhurst at email@example.com.
On Friday, March 25, the Collingwood Youth Centre is one of the key sponsors for the Collingwood Blues game. Donations of non-perishable food items are being accepted, which will go into the pantry. Other items which will be accepted include personal hygiene items and baby items such as diapers, powdered formula and baby cereals.
The Collingwood Youth Centre open house will be taking place Saturday, March 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their facility at 76 First Street. All donations of a non-perishable food item will include the chance to be entered into a surprise bag draw.