Fall, and its association with all things apple, pumpkin, and warm spices, is a time to reflect on nature’s harvest and to give thanks for what it offers. It is also an opportunity to learn about the original stewards of this land and their traditions and beliefs.
The Diabetes Education Community Network), Harmony Community Food Centre, and Health Promotion teams worked together to bring an adapted three sisters soup cooking demo and teaching to the community.
The Three Sisters Garden
The Haudenosaunee are an Iroquoian-speaking confederacy of First Nations peoples in northeastern North America, a continent traditionally referred to as Turtle Island. The Haudenosaunee are well known for their agricultural skills, partly due to their practice of planting crops like corn, beans, and squash (sometimes known as the “three sisters”) together to encourage growth. These three foods made up a large portion of the traditional Haudenosaunee diet. These crops benefit and support each other through the companion planting method. Mounds of soil are formed approximately 12 inches high and 20 inches wide. Several corn seeds are then planted in the centre of the mound. When the corn is about 6 inches tall, the beans and squash are planted around the corn, alternating between the two types of crops. By using this method, the sturdy corn stalks are used as poles for the beans to climb, and the beans provide nitrogen to the soil. The squash spreads over the ground, providing shade that traps moisture for the growing crops. The prickly vines deter pests.
This is not a traditional three sisters soup recipe. The traditional recipe was discussed at the demo. This adapted recipe was created by Suzanne Hajto, dietitian, to address the nutritional needs of the community SRCHC serves.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cups frozen chopped squash
1 ½ cups frozen green beans
1 ½ cups canned hominy corn, rinsed and drained
6 cups vegetable-based, no-salt-added broth (1-2 stock/bouillon cubes or 1 ½ tablespoons stock/bouillon powder)
Salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the onion and place it in the pot with the vegetable oil. Cook on medium heat, stirring often
Add the vegetables and broth or water to the pot.
Place the lid on the pot.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
Season with pepper and salt, or stock/bouillon.
Add more water if it’s too thick for your liking.
Serve with buns or biscuits.
Optional: For a smooth consistency, puree the soup.
From left to right: Aparna Kajenthira, Mathew Cheng, Bella Bereket, Emily Hill, Rebecca Ho, Arman Hamidian, Mike Wilson, Shelley Darling, Jen Quito and Rishma Pradhan. Missing are Khadija Nakhuda, and Kristen Yee-Joshi.
At the June 22, 2022, Annual General Meeting (AGM), SRCHC members voted to elect the 2022/2023 Board of Directors. This year, three new members joined the Board and an appointed member was confirmed by election at the AGM.
Bella Bereket is a first-generation Eritrean Canadian who currently works as a registered nurse in a critical care unit. She has a Bachelor of Science in both Kinesiology and Nursing from York University and recently completed a research study that examined migration and critical health. She grew up serving as an Eritrean Tewahdo Church youth leader, mentoring Eritrean youth. Bella has lived in the local area for over 10 years.
Matthew Cheng has lived in the local area for over 16 years and is a second-generation Canadian from Hong Kong. He has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology & Health Sciences from York University and completed his Juris Doctor at the University of Windsor. While at the University of Windsor, he participated in a mental health justice clinic. Collaborating with the Empowerment Council, he led a Pro Bono Students Canada project on family planning for adults with disabilities and was a worker at the trans ID clinic. He also externed at the HIV Legal Network, developing legal resources on harm reduction and human rights for pregnant people and parents who use drugs.
Arman Hamidian is the son of Iranian refugees, something that was vital in shaping his equity lens and fueling his interest in examining the social determinants of health. He has held research and program manager roles pertaining to health equity, worked on affordable housing projects in SE Health and as a policy researcher for the Wellesley Institute, and was a Board chair for Access Alliance for three years. He has also worked as a policy advisor for different ministers’ offices in the Ontario government, and completed his Masters of Public Policy, Administration, and Law at York University. Arman currently works as a health policy and strategy consultant at Santis Health.
Rishma Pradhan is of South Asian via East Africa descent and grew up in Montreal. After her lived experience of being a caregiver to her father through his battle with cancer, Rishma shifted her career from the oil and gas sector to health care so that she could help solve challenges within the health care system and contribute to health system transformation. Drawing on her Master of Business Administration degree and her current studies in the Master of Health Science program at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, she is passionate about policy, innovation, and transformation, supporting sustainable results across the health system. Currently, she is expanding her experience by focusing on developing a deeper understanding of health care service delivery at the acute care and community level.
Existing SRCHC Board of Directors, 2022-2023:
Shelley Darling, Emily Hill, Rebecca Ho, Aparna Kajenthira, Khadija Nakhuda, Jen Quito, Mike Wilson and Kristen Yee Joshi
Additional information about the SRCHC Board can be found at https://www.srchc.ca/our-community/board-of-directors/
As COVID-19 swept across the globe, so too did the sudden halt of cancer screening in Ontario. In anticipation of this unprecedented pandemic weighing down and exhausting the health care system, Ontario’s Ministry of Health ceased all non-emergent services, including diagnostic tests for cancer screening. Since then, there has been a need for intricate planning to pave the way for pandemic recovery and to return to a state of cancer-screening normalcy. But how do we reorient ourselves and revert back to a time before COVID-19?
With the facilitation of a learning collaborative delivered by the Alliance for Healthier Communities, SRCHC has been working on building back our capacity and planning for the resumption of cancer-screening services. Initially focusing on colorectal cancer screening, with the assistance of health promotion, primary care and administrative support staff, we have been able to make measurable strides in the direction of cancer-screening service restoration and have, since October 2021, increased the number of clients reached for colorectal cancer screening by nearly 10%.
We have learned that understanding and addressing barriers is key to ensuring equitable health outcomes. Because language capabilities tend to stand in the way of many clients accessing information about cancer screening, this barrier needs to be met with focused solutions. With the combined efforts made by health promotion and clinical registered nurses (RNs), cancer-screening resources are available in simplified Chinese, among other languages. These resources can be found on the advertisement screens in our office and can also be accessed directly from our primary care providers and administrative staff.
Other efforts to reach more clients for cancer screening include those undertaken by our clinicians, clinical RNs, and health promoters as they deliver education during appointments to emphasize the importance of screening. Our Women’s Screening Group is also resurfacing, with the goal of providing women with screening opportunities for breast and cervical cancer.
Despite the pandemic still looming over us, we have embarked on a journey to recovery and are eager to explore more approaches to help resume integral services that provide opportunities for cancer screening.
“People are so quick to not accept people who are street involved. They separate us into those that use and those that don’t use. It’s so unfair. Harm reduction is not about drugs…it’s about unconditional love and about being there on your own terms. Nobody is above anybody. There is no failure here.” – Elder, Wanda Whitebird
Last winter, as pandemic restrictions began to lift and as part of SRCHC’s commitment to support spaces where Indigenous people feel welcomed, can engage in cultural activities, and can give and receive community support, a group of staff led by SRCHC’s Indigenous Health Promoter, Les Harper, started a regalia-making group for women who use our harm-reduction services. Regalia is the traditional clothing and accessories worn by Indigenous people at dances and cultural events. Over an eight-week period in May and June, six participants worked with well-known regalia-maker and dancer Nichole Leveck and her daughter Nazarene Pope to envision and create their own regalia. The group culminated in a community Circle and coming-out dance that brought program participants together to showcase their regalia.
The regalia project’s activities were grounded in relationship building and shared teachings. Elder, Wanda Whitebird offered guidance to the program and gave the group its name: Northern Feathers Dance Troupe. This name reflects both what the dancers have in common and their unique contributions. Like feathers, they are each vitally important, and like birds, they are ready to fly. This program is the first of its kind to bring together women who use drugs and to provide a space for their inclusion in cultural activities from a harm-reduction framework. The Northern Feathers dancers have since participated in other community powwows and cultural events. SRCHC is grateful to have had the opportunity to support this space for community building and to be able to witness the joy and bravery of our community so beautifully expressed.
“As Indigenous people, so many times throughout history we’ve not been allowed to do things, and things were taken away from us. This project speaks back to that. This shows the strength and resilience of our culture. It’s such a wonderful and powerful thing. It cannot and will not be taken away from us.“ – Les Harper
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, SRCHC has worked to shift services to a mixed on-site/virtual model, to ensure as little disruption as possible to our supports. Although many programs continued to provide necessary services in person, many clients also worked with their providers in new ways. One of the teams at the centre that has worked creatively in this way is our social services team.
Social workers and social service workers strive to support clients holistically. They take into account the whole person so that they can support their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. The pandemic profoundly affected almost everyone, in many areas of their lives. Many people experienced financial pressures, mental health challenges, and difficulty navigating day-to-day life. It therefore became more important than ever for people in our community to have access to resources such as social workers and social service workers.
Within just the first year of the pandemic, the social services team had 25% more interactions with clients than in previous years. The average amount of new referrals has also steadily increased since 2020. This increase was made more complex because of the social services team’s significantly reduced capacity due to a variety of factors, including complications of the pandemic.
A blended mix of virtual and in-person appointments have been an important part of providing accessible care. For many of our clients, in-person support is crucial because of barriers such as not owning a telephone, not having privacy for virtual appointments, language barriers, and more.
For other clients, virtual appointments significantly improved access to care. Since 2020, more than half of all social work appointments with clients have been virtual. Many clients told us that virtual appointments made it possible to access their providers when they faced barriers such as a lack of childcare, and that they enjoyed the increased ease of service when working with interpreters, as well as the reduced risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
The pandemic brought grief to many areas of our lives, something that was made worse by social isolation. Virtual sessions offered ways for many of our vulnerable communities, such as seniors, to remain connected and able to access supports.
In addition to individual support, the team found innovative ways to provide group-based support. For example, the Growing With Grief group was a partnership with the Women’s Harm Reduction team. Despite being an online group, four of the group’s five participants came to SRCHC each week to access technology so they could participate. This blend of virtual and on-site services was critical to the group’s success: it had near-perfect attendance and all five participants completed the program, which even before the pandemic was the exception for most group-based programming.
Social workers and social service workers are an important part of supporting the health and wellness of our communities. The pandemic has illustrated the need to be innovative and creative in the delivery of healthcare, and all of the staff at SRCHC, including the social services team, are dedicated to providing this support. As we move through the next phases of the pandemic, SRCHC will continue to be an innovator in healthcare delivery.
Every year, SRCHC celebrates Earth Day, which helps people connect with the living earth and each other. Human beings, and all living things, depend on clean air, water, and soil to stay healthy.
Historically, people living in South Riverdale have been exposed to toxins in the air and the soil from the pollution that was generated by some of the area’s industries. Although some industries are still generating air pollution, today, that kind of pollution mostly comes from cars and trucks.
This issue has brought people together to advocate for change—from demanding soil clean-ups to promoting alternatives to driving (such as transit, walking, and cycling). Because Earth Day is every day, really.
Over the years, people in South Riverdale have worked closely with elected representatives, industry, and government to clean up polluting industries and to promote bicycle lanes and safer streets. They have also worked to raise awareness about everyday exposure to toxins in the home. It’s important to remember and celebrate this work so that others can learn and take action when needed.
This year, SRCHC was not able to host our usual Earth Day outdoor fair—with information tables, music, performances, and most importantly, food and socializing—at our building at 955 Queen Street East. We did host a few smaller events, though, including bike repair “pop-ups” at Eastview Community Centre, at SRCHC, and in our Harmony Hall, where we also hosted a seed exchange giveaway with refreshments of tea and cookies.
This year’s theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” SRCHC is working to reduce greenhouse gasses (mitigation) and to provide some relief from extreme weather (adaptation). We all need to take action where we can. Generally, higher-income earners create more greenhouse gasses because they have a larger carbon footprint, and thus carry more responsibility for climate change. On average, Canadians are the second highest carbon emitters on the planet, per capita. So we can all advocate for solutions.
The ETOP team has had a very busy year, and this article reflects the highlights of this work.
A large part of this work has been the provision of harm reduction supports by a team that includes people with lived experience to the under-served, under-resourced Oakridge community. The Oakridge Hub, an East Toronto Health Partners initiative, provides comprehensive care through its many partners, including Unity Health, St. Michael’s Homes, WoodGreen Community Services, and the Comprehensive Treatment Clinic. This team worked through pandemic-related lockdowns, COVID-19 outbreaks, a hot summer, and a brutally cold winter.
In autumn 2021, we were given a unique opportunity to secure space at 52 Cataraqui Crescent, a small Toronto Community Housing (TCH) recreation centre around the corner from the original location, which was located within the Warden Woods Community Centre, at 46 Fir Valley Court.
The new space offered a greater level of privacy for our most marginalized clients, and as we settled into 52 Cataraqui, we have seen our numbers jump threefold as we continue to build trusting relationships with the community, largely through word-of-mouth recommendations by our regular clients to new move-ins at the local TCH buildings.
We are so excited to be able to plan some fun and educational events this summer in our basketball court, are hopeful for a summer community gardening project, and, most of all, we are excited to hear that some much-needed repair work is happening to our space so that we can safely serve our folks in the way they want, when they want and need it.
We also wanted to also give a special shout-out to Harmony Community Food Centre for the food donations and deliveries. As you can see in the photos, the centre has been instrumental in helping us ensure that people in the Oakridge community have regular access to healthy and nutritious foods!
As the weather gets warmer and the spring buds and blossoms return, we’re looking forward to another gardening season filled with possibilities. Whatever level of experience you have, even if you are a complete beginner, gardening can be for you. Using whatever green space you have at home—, even a small sunny balcony, or a community garden near you—you can grow something beautiful. Whether you’re interested in growing your own food, traditional medicines, or native plants to support local pollinators, – you can increase your knowledge, experience, skills, and connection to nature.
Learning how to grow and care for different plants can be beneficial in so many ways, including:
Physically: Gardening is a physical activity that can be adapted to your abilities, lowers blood pressure, and is a great source of exercise.
Mentally: Gardening lowers stress and anxiety, is a mood booster, gets you outside, and is empowering.
Socially: Gardening provides an opportunity for social connections and community- building, as well as teaching and learning new skills.
Ecologically: Gardening improves soil quality, provides critical habitat and food for local native pollinators, supports biodiversity, and sequesters carbon, which is a positive climate change action.
For more information about gardening programs at SRCHC, contact Melissa at MCoiffe@srchc.com.
On April 22, 2022, staff and members from the COUNTERfit Harm Reduction, keepSIX, and SOS programs held their annual Earth Day community clean-up. The day began with a smudging ceremony, after which volunteers walked down laneways around the SRCHC building collecting garbage. By the time they arrived at Jimmie Simpson Park, they had collected 10 full bags. They also cleaned up along Queen Street East. They didn’t find any syringes or stems—just lots of garbage!
By the time they arrived at the park, our volunteers had also run into other community members who were engaged in the same activity. These kinds of clean-ups help ensure that our community is safer and cleaner for everyone. They’re also a great way for volunteers and staff to work together for the good of our neighbourhood.