Mishaabooz’s Realm (Le Royaume de Michabous) a collaboration between Indigenous artists and operatic performers of Highlands Opera Studio in collaboration with L’Atelier Lyrique L’Opera de Montreal will be performed in December and will include community choruses from Montreal and Haliburton. (Photo submitted by Sticks and Stones Productions)

Simply Homemade program feeds hungry students

By Angela Long

Published July 26 2016

It’s break time at the Haliburton School of Art and Design’s J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School summer campus. The lineup in front of the SIRCH Community Services Café grows longer. Ten students. Twenty.

Jen Hearn graduate of SIRCH’s Cook It Up program and sole employee at the café three days a week from 7 a.m. to noon doesn’t lose her cool for an instant. She makes a fresh pot of coffee. She smiles like she means it.
Hearn pours coffee after coffee. She sells freshly baked brownies Rice Krispies squares cookies muffins – everything prepared by Simply Homemade the latest addition to SIRCH’s food initiative programs. A wall of the café displays a menu for another Simply Homemade service – pre-ordered lunches available three days a week.

Since July 4 Simply Homemade has set up shop at SIRCH’s Victoria Street kitchen. All proceeds from the café and lunches go toward Community Kitchen – a program providing 4000 meals each year to individuals and families experiencing hardship or illness.
“It’s a great partnership with HSAD” says SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson in an email to the Echo “their students can eat on site (the other two days Janine Papadopolous offers pizzas) and we get to employ people make nutritious food in our approved kitchen at SIRCH Central and make some money to support others.”

A student asks for order forms for the next lunch delivery. Hearn points to the menu explaining the different choices. Curried tuna salad sandwich. Greek pasta salad. Tofu pesto rice wraps. Twelve choices all catering to a variety of dietary requirements.
Hearn grinds coffee. Wipes counters. The morning rush is over and she’s still smiling.
“Seeing that crowd puts a big smile on my face” she says. “The busier it is the more we can expect for SIRCH.”
Hearn knows first-hand about the importance of SIRCH. With two young children one of them borderline autistic and two jobs to hold down she has often looked to SIRCH for assistance. Enrolling in the 16-week Cook It Up program was the “greatest decision of my life” she says. Since graduating in May she’s felt confident about her new skills. Running the café alone “gives you a feeling of pride” she says.
She puts on another pot of coffee. Serves another customer.
“Alisha is a wonder woman” Hearn says. “If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be where I am right now. She gives 110 per cent.”

At SIRCH Central kitchen food initiatives co-ordinator Alisha LaFleur slices cucumbers. She and her assistant dietitian Bailey Franklyn have an hour left until delivery time. Along with Hearn the two women form the trio of workers that’s Simply Homemade. Today they have 44 orders to fill.
“We’re starting to exceed our goals” says LaFleur.
On week one they received 81 orders. This week week three of the six-week HSAD summer program they’ve received 108.
LaFleur checks the roasted chickpeas. Peels a red onion. It’s been a year since Gena Robertson approached her about the idea of a coffee shop at the JDHES campus and later the lunches. They developed a menu with HSAD an order process.
With 10 years’ cooking experience and nearly three years’ experience as food initiatives co-ordinator LaFleur knows what works. She knows it’s important to provide different options for today’s varied dietary requirements and ethnic backgrounds. She believes in nutritious meals and supporting local businesses. She buys strawberries from the market baking supplies from the local bulk food store maple syrup from Wilberforce.

It’s clear customers can taste the care LaFleur puts into the Simply Homemade menu.
“Anyone who has tried our lunches comes back” she says.
Originally from Haliburton LaFleur also cares about helping her community.
“I’m able to help people that I grew up with knowing that what we do makes a difference.”
LaFleur crumbles feta into a giant bowl filled with red peppers and rotini. Franklyn puts the final toppings on the Field Greens Garden Salads. One by one take-out containers transform from empty to full of colour.
From July 16 until 30 Todd’s Independent Grocer has chosen SIRCH Community Kitchen as their charity of choice for their Give a Little Help a Lot campaign. Ask at checkout if you’d like to donate.