Meals with Purpose program has turned hundreds of pounds of leftover food into 850 meals for women living at the YWCA
Grace Samana still spends plenty of time worrying about her next meal, even months removed from living on the street.
The 46-year-old fled an abusive relationship and battled homelessness before finding shelter through YWCA Hamilton’s downtown transitional housing program. The welfare recipient still uses the food bank sometimes and is careful with her meal plan.
But twice a month, she feasts.
That’s when local McMaster University students Heidi Yin and Hardil Bhatt visit the Hamilton Farmers’ Market to collect leftover meat and veggies on Saturday evening — then magic it into next-day meals for around 65 women in the YWCA housing complex on MacNab Street.
Since March, they’ve collected close to 900 pounds of veggies and meat from market vendors that were otherwise destined for the compost bin. The university and the local OPIRG branch provided cash for non-market staples and seasoning.
From there, a dedicated crew of volunteers — students from McMaster and Mohawk College, plus YWCA staffers — have created 850 meals in the agency’s industrial-sized kitchen.
Yin is the experienced chef of the pair, sorting through rescued veggies and creating recipes the night before meals. They’ve experimented with eggplant Parmesan, creamy mushroom pasta and maple-glazed brussels sprouts, but also worked in old standbys like shepherd’s pie.
“We try to make it flavourful and tasty, but also healthy,” said Yin in between dicing up winter squash and figuring out exactly how to use daikon radishes. “I think I’m learning how to use a new vegetable every time.”
Yin said she was particularly interested in partnering with the downtown Y to get out of the “campus bubble” and into the broader Hamilton community.
“It’s a wonderful experience, to be there in the kitchen and share a meal together afterward,” she said.
Residents have the option of taking meals back to their rooms, but each Sunday between five and 10 women will usually eat together along with program volunteers.
“I would not miss it,” said Samana, who calls the communal feast a “homey, comfortable” experience. “For me, I was lost for years … I need a sense of community, a support system. This is all of that.”
Eventually, Yin and Bhatt will graduate and perhaps move on from Hamilton. But they’re already working on a “succession plan” of volunteers to keep the program rolling — along with a recipe book based on their culinary adventures.