Food program aims to reduce hunger for Black families

by Lincoln Depradine
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Zakiya Tafari

Afri-Can FoodBasket, concerned with the increasing numbers of Black children and families unable to find sufficient healthy food, has launched a monthly food provision initiative.
The “Black Food Access Program” is in keeping with the mandate of the Afri-Can FoodBasket which is “committed to reducing hunger and increasing cultural food access,” Zakiya Tafari, the non-profit organization’s executive director, told Share.
He said the Afri-Can FoodBasket intends to pack, and deliver to Black families, boxes of food comprising fruits and vegetables.
“It’s a program that’s going to provide healthy cultural food to 400 families every month,” he said.
Some deliveries will be made directly to families registered with the Afri-Can FoodBasket. Others will be collected by partnering organizations that will then distribute to clients of their community groups.
“In our box, you’ll see things like eddoes, cassava, green plantains, sweet potato, kale, oranges, apples, bananas and avocados. There are things based on the season so, in the summer, you’ll get fresh callaloo and corn. Our food boxes have at least three fruits because we know it’s important for families, but especially for children to have access to fruits; we make sure that’s in every box.”
The Afri-Can FoodBasket was founded 28 years ago by Tafari’s parents Anan Lololi and Anyika Tafari, as a food-buying cooperative, which allowed members to purchase food at lower prices.
The co-op concept ended and the organization transitioned to urban agriculture and programs with children and youth.
The Afri-Can FoodBasket’s concerns with the impact of food insecurity in the Black and Caribbean community was heightened with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Black Food Access Program”, which was launched last month at the Jamaican Canadian Association Centre, is funded by the City of Toronto, Walmart Foundation and United Way.
“Essentially, this new program is building on the Black Food Toronto program which we launched during COVID. At the height of the COVID pandemic, we were packing and distributing 500 boxes of food for families in need. We’ve had an exhaustive wait list of families who are looking for support, looking for access to something like this,” Tafari said.
“Prior to COVID, food insecurity in the Black community was (experienced by) 28 per cent of Black Canadians. We’ve now seen that number increased to 38 per cent, meaning four in every 10 Black households are food insecure. Even worse, that means that 46.6 per cent of Black children are living in food insecure households. So, having access to fresh fruits and vegetables is really important and, for us, also maintaining cultural diets is critical.”
The Canadian government has a zero-hunger initiative aimed at eliminating hunger and poverty by 2030. The Afri-Can FoodBasket wants to be part of the government’s program, Tafari said.
“We want to do our part for our community. We know what our community needs in terms of food and why cultural food is important to them. We want to be part of that solution,” said Tafari, the grandson of Irma James, the first Black woman to drive a streetcar in Toronto. She was hired by the commission in 1983.
“I’m looking at how do I add to my family’s legacy of being able to build community and give back in a way that’s really positive,” Tafari said.
“The next aspect of this program that we’re going to be launching is the food literacy part of things. We’re going to be having workshops and creating online resources for people to hear best ways of how to cook their food, and really doing it from a point of health and wellness. We’re also looking at getting a dietitian on board and tackling the issue of chronic disease prevention.”

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