Alasdair has worked in the food and hospitality industry for much of his life. So when he lost his job as a server due to an alcohol addiction, worries about where his next meal would come weren’t far from his mind. In fact, they became a daily and stressful reality. “For a while, money was really tight,” says Alasdair. “But then it got to a point where I couldn’t even afford food.”
Like many people living in poverty, Alasdair felt helpless and afraid for the future. “I was lost and I didn’t know what was going on. My self-esteem was completely shot.”
But sometimes, help can come in unexpected ways. It was during a walk though his local neighbourhood that he decided to stop by the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre (PARC) in Toronto, an agency supported by United Way. There, he connected with a community meal program that offers people living in poverty two nutritious meals a day.
Those first meals at PARC inspired Alasdair to keep coming back. Soon, he began using other services offered at the agency, including a weekly art program that allowed him to rediscover his childhood love of drawing. He also started to make friends at the centre. Gradually, his confidence grew and an opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen came knocking.
“I knew my way around a kitchen because I had worked at restaurants my whole life,” he says. “I was so grateful for the food, so I thought the least I could do was help out. I started feeling better right away. Volunteering showed me that I could improve my situation and give back at the same time.”
With his newfound confidence and improved skills, Alasdair recently landed a job as a custodian at a local community centre. But despite a busy full-time schedule, he still volunteers at PARC because he understands just how life-changing healthy meals served with compassion can be. “For people living in poverty, including those struggling with mental health issues or homelessness, a healthy meal is really important to their well-being,” he says. “But sharing a meal means a lot, too. It makes people feel better about themselves—and it builds a real community.”