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Interview with Cassandra LeBlanc, Executive Director

Can you tell me a little bit about how and why your organization began? 

The Fredericton Community Kitchens began in December of 1982 in the basement of a church. It was started by a group of caring community members that saw the increasing food insecurity and poverty in our city and decided to do something about it. 42 years later, and our organization is still here and still doing something about it.

Has the organization grown significantly since it began? 

Yes, our organization has grown significantly. On our first day open, the community members served 4 bowls of soup. Fast forward to 2023, and our organization prepared 198,572 meals for the Fredericton community through the Daily Meal, Student Hunger, Grab & Go Breakfast and Outreach Programs. We’ve grown a lot over the years, but our mandate has remained the same – feeding Fredericton’s hungry!

What is your role in the organization and what is the structure? Staff? Board? Committees? Etc

I am the Executive Director of our charity and have 6 full-time and 3 part-time staff that work with me! We have a Board of Directors consisting of up to 15 community members and several committees open to public members. We depend on over 400 active volunteers to make the services we offer possible!

What types of services does your organization offer and who are the people who use or take advantage of your services?

We offer many services aimed at reducing hunger in our city. Our longest standing program is our Daily Meal Program that offers a warm meal to anyone in need 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Lunch and supper are offered every day and breakfast is offered Mon-Fri. We also run the Student Hunger Program that operates in 20 schools in the Fredericton area! This program offers free daily lunches and free weekly backpacks of non-perishables to any student in need. We also have our Grab & Go Breakfast on Doone Street that provides daily breakfast options throughout the school year to children living in the Doone Street area. Finally, we deliver meals across the city through our Outreach Program! We currently deliver meals to the John Howard Society on Main Street, Oak Centre, Fredericton Public Library and Grace House for Women.

As a not-for-profit, what are your major fundraisers? 

Our major fundraisers are the Undercoating Promotion with Wonder Auto & Tire in September, Student Hunger Month in October, and our Holiday Mail-Out campaign in December. This year, we will be launching a large new fundraiser – we will be hosting our first ever gala in May!

What are the best ways to help your organization? (i.e. donations, volunteering, sharing on social media, etc.)

Donate food, funds, or time! We depend heavily on community support to pull off everything we do for the community. Every day, we require 20 + volunteers to operate our services and only 2% of our annual funding comes from government. Whether you can spare some food, spare some time, or spare some funds, every bit of support means the world to us and the people we serve.

Can you tell me about one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working for this organization?

I would say the most rewarding experience so far has been bumping into people that have used the community kitchens services at one point in their lives. These individuals always make a point to come say hi and tell me about how they are doing now. It makes everything feel worth it when one of our guests proudly tells me they got housing or a job. Words can’t express the joy you feel knowing you were able to be there for someone when they needed the support! This is what being a part of community is all about.

What kind of challenges has your organization encountered and how did you adapt to overcome them?

The Covid-19 pandemic was especially difficult for our organization and for the guests we serve. Because of limited space and school closures, we were forced to move to a take-out and delivery system for the majority of the pandemic. On top of these operational challenges, we also had to raise money at a time that we couldn’t host in-person events. With most of our funding coming from grants and fundraisers, this was very difficult for us.

Overall, we always struggle with reliable funding. Like many community organizations, a lot of our funding comes from donors in the community. We are so thankful for the amazing support we receive, but it is challenging to make improvements and start new services when you don’t know where your next dollar is coming from.

If I were thinking about volunteering for a not-for-profit organization, what would you say to sway my decision to join your organization? What kind of impact can volunteers have within your organization?

Volunteers are vital to our organization. Without volunteers, we would not be able to continue to offer the services we provide the community! We have flexible shifts, no commitments needed, training provided, a quick sign-up process, and a wonderful crew of staff to lead you. Our volunteers are definitely their own fantastic community and many of our volunteers have been coming for decades. It truly takes a community to feed a community.

What sets you apart from other not-for-profits?

What sets our organization apart is our deeply held belief that food is a basic human right. This is reflected in our low-barrier approach to food security. We try our best to make access to nutritious food easy, convenient, and free across our programs so that people in need can get the help they need, when they need it.

What is something that you wish more people knew about your organization?

That we are funded by the community, for the community. Less than 2% of our funding comes from government sources. We also want the community to know that everyone is welcome to use our services – no questions asked, no information required.

Has your organization won any awards?

Our volunteers won the City’s Unsung Hero Award in 2019.  

What are you most proud of about your organization?

Our commitment to feeding Fredericton’s hungry. During the pandemic, we did not close our doors for one day and found a way to keep feeding those in need despite tremendous challenges. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that puts people first and leads by example in the community.

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