News Story

Church Donation Helps Medicine Hat Food Bank Serve Up Cooking Skills

How a Humanitarian Aid Fund donation built self-reliance skills as well as a kitchen

In a city that claims to be Canada’s sunniest, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought an extra ray of sunshine to a newly rebuilt food bank in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

The Church’s Humanitarian Aid Fund recently donated $185,000 to help fund one commercial and two teaching kitchens in the Root Cellar Food and Wellness Hub. However, the kitchens represent far more than ovens and counter space. They offer self-sufficiency to patrons and the ability to donate even more food to needy families in the area.

“We are incredibly grateful that the Church believed in what we do here and supported our organization in such a big way,” said Melissa Mullis, marketing and events manager for the Root Cellar. “This donation gives us the ability to change the next generation and give them the skills necessary for long-term food sustainability.”

Common Goals

According to John Hughes, local resident and Medicine Hat Alberta Stake JustServe specialist, the Church in Medicine Hat has always had a great relationship with the food bank. Missionaries volunteer regularly, and Church members have helped with food collection drives and pie projects.

“The former executive director of the Root Cellar knew about the Church’s emphasis on building self-reliance and invited us on a tour of the community hub that they were building and to discuss opportunities for the Church to get involved,” recalled Hughes.

“At about this time, our JustServe working group was looking for opportunities to build community partnerships and was made aware that the Church would consider humanitarian grants to support local projects,” Hughes continued. “As we learned more about the Root Cellar’s Food First program, we quickly realized that it lined up perfectly with the Church’s goal to foster self-reliance. We were incredibly impressed with it and grateful for the tremendous work being done by the Root Cellar in our community.”

New Kitchens Offer Self-Sufficiency and Less Waste

The teaching kitchens are used for the Root Cellar’s Food First program. This is a 12-week course during which clients are taught the basics of cooking with a goal toward sustainability and nutrition. Graduates rarely need to come back to the food bank.

“The commercial kitchen is a huge asset in eliminating food waste,” said Mullis. “Let’s say a farmer donates an entire pallet of tomatoes. Now we can process and preserve them in the kitchen for future distribution instead of them possibly going to waste.”

The commercial kitchen also makes operating a café possible and allows the Root Cellar to help other charitable organizations host events in its space.

More Than a Food Bank

Prior to October 2021, when the Root Cellar reopened in a new space and with a new name, it had been operating under the name of Medicine Hat District Food Bank.

“We wanted to change [the name] because, when we call ourselves a food bank, we limit the public’s perception of us,” said Mullis. “We are so much more than a food bank.”

The Root Cellar sees itself as a community hub with space for children to play, five kitchens and a shopping area where clients can choose their own food items. The shopping space is set up like a grocery store, and clients select their own food, which offers a greater sense of dignity. Staff and volunteers at the Root Cellar also distribute 700–900 brown bag lunches to schoolchildren each day. There are also plans to open a café with an outdoor patio to encourage gathering and making connections.

New Life for Former Fire Station

The newly renovated building now occupied by the Root Cellar was formerly the city’s fire station. According to Mullis, some of the firefighters who used to work there are excited to enjoy the building again, either as volunteers or visitors.

Hannah Thomas, communication director for the Medicine Hat Alberta Stake, worked with the Root Cellar on ascertaining needs and how the Church could best assist.

“It was really exciting and eye-opening to be part of a project like this,” said Thomas. “I’d never considered doing something locally like this. To see the work going on in our community that we, as a Church, can be a part of and support has been amazing. I wish I’d known about it sooner, actually. I look forward to helping the community in a bigger way than I could on my own, using the support of the whole Church. It’s been a phenomenal experience.”

Contributed by Gail Newbold

Read the article in French

Read this Medicine Hat News article for more coverage about this important donation.

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