by: Cory Correia

Vancouver Coastal Health has developed an online map that helps people who struggle to pay for healthy food get access to what they need.

The Vancouver Food Asset Map, developed with help from local partners, can help users find low-cost or free meals, free or subsidized grocery items, kitchen or food programs, retail stores or markets, neighbourhood food networks and community organizations.

“For people to find food easily, particularly when they are vulnerable and cannot find food, it’s a one-stop shop, said Kathy Romses, a Vancouver Coastal Health dietitian.

“If it’s for their age group, or it might be for HIV-positive women, it gives them all of the information in an easy-to-use, updated map that they can count on.”

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Teaching farming
In addition to providing food, some of the almost 800 food asset locations listed are also spaces for community members to learn about farming.

One of the those is a garden behind Vancouver Technical Secondary School.

Students there volunteer their time to garden and learn about food sustainability, and some of the older students have worked on the irrigation system.

The garden features red and green leaf lettuce, turnips, cabbage, kale, cilantro, beets and a half dozen other vegetables that are provided for free to those in need.

School principal Annette Vey-Chilton said the garden has become a focal point for students, especially since 25 per cent of them report some food insecurity.

Vey-Chilton said the school runs a breakfast program, feeding more than 100 children every weekday morning, as well as a lunch program feeding 200 children.

“The focus on food and healthy eating, the synergy, … it’s been great for kids to learn from seed to table where their food comes from,” Vey-Chilton said.

‘A living map’
Devon Green is eager to get the information in the map out to those in need. Ten years ago, he was homeless and had few options for food, so after he got back on his feet he started a website featuring similar information.

“Now, I don’t think people have much to worry about in this town, because there are so many resources around there that you just have to ask,” Green said.

Although Romses is happy with the response so far, she said for this map to thrive, the community needs to get behind it.

“It’s now a living, online map where we’re getting community input to help update the map, so we want community to be involved, and feel that this is a map that they can use and support and keep current,” Romses said.

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