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Article by CBC online journalist Elizabeth Chiu on 2019 United Way Halifax/Bhayana Family Foundation Award Recipient Jessie Dale

Halifax woman brings seniors, newcomers together through food

When Jessie Dale saw a need to provide fresh, affordable produce to low-income seniors in Halifax who had a tough time getting around, she knew she needed to act.

She started handing out her cellphone number to seniors to place their orders.

Then she turned to newcomers, Syrian and Middle Eastern youth, some as young as 12, who were only too willing to help.

Every second Saturday, Dale drives a city-owned truck filled with fruit and veggies to two subsidized apartment buildings in north-end Halifax and Fairview.

She’s met by groups of youth who range in age from 12 to 22. They’re recruited by the YMCA and they divvy up the produce, such as apples, pears, sweet potatoes, broccoli and other goodies, into customized orders. In return, they get a $25 honorarium — it’s their crack at a first job.

In a community room in one of the apartment buildings, seniors pick up their food that would cost more in the supermarket. But they get even more than they bargained for.

“It’s just kind of opened their hearts to maybe differences, cultures that they’d never experienced before,” said Dale. “I think they’re really impressed and inspired by the youth going out of their way to help them.”

For that work delivering nutritious food to seniors in need, and building bridges across ages and cultures, Dale was honoured on Monday with a national award from the Bhayana Family Foundation, in partnership with the United Way.

“It’s amazing to be recognized and more so just hear from volunteers and people I’ve worked with over the past three years that they’re celebrating the win as well,” she said.

Dale is one of seven people who have worked at United Way funded-partners around Halifax to be named an “Invisible Champion.” The recognition comes with a $1,000 award, which she hopes to use toward professional development around food security.

The home delivery project for low-income seniors is part of her work as the co-ordinator of Halifax’s Mobile Food Market.

Its core funding this year is $100,000 from the province. Food is provided at wholesale prices by Nova Scotia farmers and at a discount by corporate sponsor Superstore.

What started three years ago as a Halifax Transit bus converted into a summer food market on wheels has expanded.

Besides the visits to the two sites specifically targeting seniors, Dale goes to another 10 sites in communities ranging from Spryfield to North Preston to serve a variety of groups. At each site, Dale works with a different group of volunteers.

At one site, Dale delivers food to a high school where hungry students can grab a free snack. In another location, a community group sells the produce at their own market. Elsewhere, $10 pre-ordered produce packs are picked up by customers in neighbourhood and seniors centres.

Over the last three years, $142,000 in produce packs have been sold.

The senior home delivery project is made possible by a yearly grant from a wellness fund through Nova Scotia’s community health boards.

Dale said the young volunteers aren’t worried if funding isn’t renewed next year.

“Their immediate response was, ‘Well, we can still work for you,'” she said. “I was kind of shocked to hear that, but also it’s really lovely that they are enjoying their time enough to just want to do it for the opportunity.”

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