Better Health Through Nutrition

29 March, 2022 | Youville Centre

Food Cents, a new program at Youville Centre, is helping women and their children learn more about healthy eating, food preparation and grocery shopping. While the program aims to decrease chronic disease and help alleviate food insecurity, one of the side benefits is also a stronger sense of community.

“With a grant from the Winnipeg Foundation, we launched the program earlier this year with a focus on single parents who identify as women,” explains Program Manager Kim Stitt. “Our 12 participants receive eight to ten sessions with a dietitian, as well as virtual classes to learn together, plus they’re provided with a grocery card to help cover some of their food costs.”

Veena Girkoff

Veena Gorkoff, a Registered Dietitian with Youville Centre, has been deeply involved with program participants and was part of the small team who came up with the concept for the program. “This type of program is more important than ever,” she confirms. “Especially post-pandemic, with food prices skyrocketing, this helps to lessen participants’ grocery bill while also providing more knowledge on how to shop for and cook healthy meals.”

One of the many innovations within the Food Cents program is the creation of a staff role called Community Food Friend. Shasity Kellington, who has a background in psychology and sociology, supports participants by grocery shopping with them and checking in on their progress. “I love this role and being on the ground with people,” she explains. “Some of the participants say that when they see me picking up veggies and talking about what types of things my own kids like to eat, it keeps them motivated and excited. We’re bridging the gap between health providers and day-to-day implementation.

Shasity Kellington
Shasity Kellington

“One of our participants is from France and is still quite new to the country,” continues Kellington. “I was out shopping with her, and she asked what parmesan is and how it should be used. That’s an example of a barrier we might not all be aware of. Having someone there to support her as she learns makes these types of challenges easier to overcome.”

A connection has begun to form among program participants, as well, even though all sessions have been held virtually up until this point. “We like to encourage a lot of sharing,” says Kellington. “We live in a very multi-cultural city and it’s nice to have everyone contribute. This has created a really nice platform where we can share ideas with each other, learn together and have some fun, too. I learn something every time we meet, too. I get the sense that we’re all really enjoying our time together.”

As the first edition of Food Cents nears its end, the team at Youville Centre have plans for a second round and are hoping that it becomes a replicable model that could help people across Manitoba. “There’s a strong evaluation component to the program, and our social work students have also put in so much work to help spread the word and find participants,” concludes Gorkoff. “There are so many of us who are invested and excited about these possibilities. We know this program won’t solve the issue of food security, but it’s making a difference for our participants and that’s really encouraging.”