Charitable Choices: Elizabeth Fraser of Community Cooks Collective

Community Cooks Collective is a non-profit organization based in Montreal that was founded during the pandemic as an “act of resistance against intersecting systems of oppression” through community cooking and providing hot meals to local shelters and members of the community. We spoke with organizing team member Elizabeth Fraser to learn more about how Community Cooks Collective aims to respond to food insecurity in the Montreal region.

Community Cooks Collective

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Community Cooks Collective (CCC) was started by Tomo Wakiyama Newton during the pandemic in response to a callout for homemade chilli from Resilience Montreal to support the shelter following the onset of COVID-19. CCC is a solidarity collective that coordinates the cooking, collection, and delivery of meals twice a month, cultivating a line of connection that runs from, and between, the kitchens of our participants’ homes to local shelters and similar organizations. CCC celebrates community power by positioning communal cooking as an act of resistance against intersecting systems of oppression.

What problem does it aim to solve?

CCC seeks to address the issue of food insecurity in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. There are many shelters in the city that support individuals experiencing food insecurity and homelessness. However, these shelters face many competing demands and needs from the communities they support with increasingly limited resources. By providing meals to shelters, we aim to share some of the pressure these shelters experience and ensure those using their services have access to safe and nutritious food.

When did you start/join it?

After finishing school, I started organzing with CCC in October 2022.

What made you want to get involved?

In Montreal and across Canada, there has been a significant rise in the number of people who experience food insecurity over the past few years (although this issue has long existed for some). It was difficult for me to see the need for greater food security and not know how I could help. CCC offered the opportunity to make a difference. CCC is just one of many organizations in Montreal taking small steps, working towards common goals that ultimately make a much larger impact.

What was the situation like when you started?

When I first joined, CCC was operating weekly, at-home cooks. Participants would cook bulk, homemade meals such as chilli, soups, pasta bakes, and salads every weekend, which would be delivered by Chasseurs Courrier to shelters – Resilience Montreal and The Open Door – the following Monday.

How has it changed since?

Since I started, CCC has undergone some changes to better respond to the needs of our volunteers and the realities of the world as the impact of COVID-19 shifted. Currently, we host two cooks every month – one at-home cook, where we focus on more “grab and go” items which better suit shelter needs, and one in-person sandwich-making session, hosted at Innovation Youth’s kitchen space in downtown Montreal. These sandwiches are delivered that day to Resilience and Project Autochtones du Québec (PAQ). As people have returned to work and school in person, changing our format allowed for more flexibility with our volunteers, who often tend to be students or young professionals, while still supporting the shelter’s needs.

We also hosted our first Cultivating Connections event this past summer. This event was an opportunity for like-minded individuals and organizations working in a similar space as CCC to come together, discuss issues of food security, and strengthen our relationships. The long-term goal of this event is to build a stronger network of organizations that can support each other and better work towards our shared goals.

Community Cooks Collective

What more needs to be done?

Although CCC provides food to shelters regularly, the shelters we support and many others around the city are always in need of more food and more resources, especially as the number of people experiencing homelessness increases. CCC would like to keep growing the number of regular volunteers so that we can provide more food to shelters.

While CCC focuses its work on issues of food security, this issue is part of a wider set of problems that are increasingly being felt by more and more people living in Canada – the housing crisis, inaccessible physical and mental healthcare, addiction crises, soaring cost of living. It’s important to keep this bigger picture in mind, as it helps to better situate the work we do and how we can support other organizations working in different – but connected – spaces.

How can our readers help?

There are many ways that people can help! Volunteer with or donate to a shelter – donating directly to a shelter means donating closer to where the needs are, ensuring that your donation will have a more immediate impact on those accessing shelter services. Volunteer with CCC or other organizations who do similar work – it’s important to find a volunteer space that speaks to you, with a group of people that are also passionate about the work you’re doing. Keep in mind that even small actions, when done by many, can have a big impact!

Do you have any events coming up?

We will have many cooks and events coming in 2024, so we would encourage those interested to follow us on socials to learn more.

Where can we follow you?

Website | Instagram | Facebook

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local community organization you love?

Cultivaction is a solidarity cooperative of urban farmers that works with community organizations in Montreal, like CCC, to ensure a transition to a more sovereign food system. Cultivaction offers courses and workshops on urban agriculture and has a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program with produce and mushrooms from their gardens. Cultivaction has regularly donated veggies for use in our cooks this past season and we were lucky enough to have them host a microgreens workshop at our recent Cultivating Connections event!