Vera Theokritoff has been with the Dalhousie Food Cupboard since 2007. She serves as President of a critical organization responsible for fighting hunger in the Ottawa community.
She has been a driving force with the Bronson Hub about reimagining what the Bronson Centre courtyards will look like in the Spring. We’re delighted to feature her in our first ever interview.
What was your motivation to be part of the Dalhousie Food Cupboard (DFC)?
To help. Until DFC approached my parish looking for rental spaceI actually had no idea that there were food banks in Canada let alone 112 in Ottawa alone. The transition from understanding the need to doing wasn’t a no brainer.
What do you think is the single biggest issue currently facing senior women?
I don’t think the issues facing older women can be condensed into a single issue that fits all. However, it is well known that women outlive men, that they rarely enjoyed the same earning power or had the ability to put money aside for their senior years while they multi tasked at home taking care of the family. Since I am in my eighties, my answer would have to be lack of money to meet basic needs and loneliness is likely to be a major challenge.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
I am not much of a feminist. I believe everyone deserves to be uplifted regardless of gender, race or sexual persuasion, and I try to practice that. I also believe in equal opportunities for all as well as equal pay for equal work. That said I add that I hope that the brave, confident young women of today, who unlike my generation, feel no shame in staying unmarried, having children “out of wedlock” and generally have no hesitation to follow their dreams, never regress to the days when women destroyed other women to build themselves up and slanderous gossip, however tempting, turns into an art form.
Who is your biggest female influence?
My mother and the other women in my family all influenced me but the one that stands out most is my amazing sister Nadia. Nadia was the soul of integrity, always found a way to inject hope where needed, shared her home and family with countless people, especially troubled children, no matter her own circumstances. She took pride in her family, her friends, and lent a hand whenever she could without asking too many questions. No one ever left her home without something be it hope or cookies and she was fun to be around. This wonderful mother, daughter, loving sister, loyal friend and teacher died six months ago but reminders of her warmth and faith in others as well as my wish to be more like her, remain.
How is the community food movement changing? / How have food banks changed since you started at Dalhousie Food Cupboard?
For the longest time Food Banks relied on donations of tinned food and packaged goods to distribute. Fresh produce, meat and dairy products were not always available and not all food banks had the space or equipment to store them.
Things started to change in the late 90s after a certain Nick Saul took over The Stop, a food bank in Toronto.Basically Saul led a campaign that opened eyes, encouraged self reliance, dipped into the community at large to offer its help and weaned clients away from affordable unhealthy industrialized foods by offering classes on how to cook healthy non-processed meals, how to grow vegetables and how to wage war on social justice. It was the beginning of a grassroots movement that caught on as can be seen by the steady growth of Community Food Centres in Ontario.Food Banks do not have the same flexibility to introduce helpful programs but they were not far behind in pushing for help with supplies of fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy products from its donors as well as the main Food bank, the main source of supplies for all satellites. We all tried new ways to increase fundraising efforts and introduce other changes. For instance our main supplier was gifted some agricultural land and now has a greenhouse and the ability to supply farm fresh produce to its satellites. In a nutshell the community food services is using whole foods to help influence policy changes and subsidies that influence people’s eating habits . By now the Stop has turned into a Community Food Centre that operates a green house, farmers market and kitchen where elementary students learn to cook.
PS. While all these reschooling efforts were going on in our back yard, Britain was experimenting with social prescribing, meaning that doctors realized that patients often did not need clinical help as much as to socialize and be made aware of the possibilities their community offers. They made arrangements with food chains offered food vouchers and prescribed healthy food. Later they added yoga lessons, ping pong sessions and so on and so forth. The results were happier, more fulfilled patients with fewer aches and pains.
Food insecurity is a global problem and we all stand to learn from each. I understand that Ontario’s doctors have already been issuing good food prescriptions for about 5 years now and that last April the province of Ontario started a pilot of its own to see what social prescribing can do for Ontarians. An update of its findings is available on the internet.