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Vancouver centres unaware of being featured on food asset map

Vancouver Coastal Health has been advertising their map showing free or low cost meals available in Vancouver, but the centres who are shown are unable to cope with more traffic

Staff at Kerrisdale Seniors Centre prepare food. Photo: Duncan Anderson
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Reported by Duncan Anderson

Several West Side food service centres listed on a city-wide map created for people to access low-cost and free food are bracing for an influx of new customers.

In fact, only two of the 15 centres contacted by The Voice say they were aware of the “Vancouver Food Asset Map,” which was created by Vancouver Coastal Health and released to the public Oct. 16.

The map showing all the different locations for free or cheap food. Screenshot from Vancouver Food Asset Map

The Agora Cafe at UBC is one of the food centres listed on the interactive map. The cafe offers low-cost meals and snacks for under five dollars, according to information on the map.

Unable to deal with potential increased traffic

Hannah Xavier, the café’s general manager, said they average between 80 to 100 customers a day. Most are UBC students and faculty, Xavier said.

“We are a bit of a small operation and with our main food option throughout the week, we run out of [the entrees] pretty quickly,” she said. “It would be a concern if more people than we already have started coming.”

The Kerrisdale Seniors Centre located at 5851 West Blvd. serves 70 to 100 meals a day to seniors 55 years and older, said Jennifer Takai, the centre’s senior programmer.

“If they are a member, it’s $7 for a meal and it’s $9 for non-members,” Takai said. “I think if we are hitting 150 [meals a day] we wouldn’t be able to deal with that.”

Increasing information surrounding free or low cost meals

The map is a result of public health dietitians from Vancouver Coastal Health working with local food networks, UBC students and instructors, the City of Vancouver, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank and Fresh Roots.

A “food asset” is a place where people can grow, prepare, share, buy, receive or learn about food, according the health authority, which noted in January that the map had received almost 2,800 views. The health authority launched the map in September 2016 but promoted it widely last week.

Kathy Romses, a public health dietitian with the health authority, said “it’s a living map that is constantly changing and being updated based on community feedback.”

When asked about the potential influx of people showing up for free and low-cost food, Romses noted they always ask permission before uploading a place to the map.

“Let’s say a place has an influx and don’t know how people heard about it, they can request to be taken off [the map],” she said.

Not granted permission to be displayed on the map

Although there is a “permission” tab within the description of the places on the map, many locations including the Kerrisdale Seniors Centre have not granted permission.

Douglas Park Community Centre is listed on the map as a place that provides low cost prepared meals for $6.50. The map also indicates meals are available for everyone, but with a target audience for people with disabilities. Ingrid Richter, the recreation facility clerk at Douglas Park Community Centre, said she wasn’t aware of the map. She told The Voice the dinners they provide are for seniors and people with disabilities only, not “available to everyone.”

The health authority has posted written instructions and instructional videos on their website on how to use the map. Languages include Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese.

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