Andrea Loohuizen is that special kind of leader who stops at nothing to meet the needs she sees in her community. The Grand Bend Community Foundation was delighted to be able to support her work with the Community Table program.
Five years ago, Loohuizen became manager of Noah’s Ark, a long-running thrift store located at Exeter Pentecostal Church in Exeter Ontario. In 2018, she and her army of volunteers decided to open a meal service in the same spot. The Community Table offers weekly lunches and dinners twice a month, using the proceeds from Noah’s Ark to purchase food. The lunches attract 120 to 140 diners, and suppers serve as many as 300.
Loohuizen says the project was designed to address food insecurity, but also to offer a sense of community and companionship “Someone once told me that there’s not much difference between a person who has no food on the table, and person who has food but no-one to eat it with – they’re both starving for something.” She says many diners have developed friendships through the program and meet regularly for Thursday lunch.
All that changed, though, on March 13. As the pandemic got under way in Ontario, the Community Table meal service closed. When it became clear that it couldn’t reopen for some time, Loohuizen and her volunteers developed a food hamper program. These days, 150 to 200 families receive weekly hampers, overflowing with fresh produce, meat, bread, eggs, milk, and pantry items. Although Loohuizen is committed to serving meals again when it’s possible, she’s been advised by public health that could be a year away.
The Grand Bend Community Foundation and United Way Perth Huron both made grants through the federal Emergency Community Support Program to help Loohuizen’s team purchase food for the hampers. The Foundation also made a grant from its own COVID-19 relief fund to purchase two commercial refrigerators. Loohuizen says the larger fridges mean more food can be refrigerated, resulting in less waste.
Christine South is one of the volunteers who helps run the Community Table. After moving to Exeter two years ago, she began bringing her family to Community Table for the dinners. “It’s mostly for the community aspect,” she says. “My kids help with filling water glasses and carrying dishes, so they feel like they’re part of this too. It’s been great for me to grow personally and within the community.”