New Glasgow-based organization cooks up program to support rural, youth homelessness in Nova Scotia

Local chef and volunteer, Glenn Freeman teaches youth learn how to prepare healthy, affordable meals.
Local chef and volunteer, Glenn Freeman teaches youth learn how to prepare healthy, affordable meals.

Last year the Pictou County Roots for Youth Society (Roots for Youth) provided 41 youth a safe place to sleep and hot meal at their 4-bed facility located in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. 

This non-profit organization began in 2009 to provide temporary accommodations for youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are experiencing homelessness. 

It is the only youth shelter north of Halifax in the province.

Beyond temporary accommodations, this organization also provides drop in services for youth to do laundry, cook a meal, take a shower or find someone to talk to.

Recently, Roots for Youth had received multiple requests from youth to help them learn how to cook healthy meals on a tight budget.  

That is where local chef, Glenn Freeman stepped in. He has been volunteering with Roots for Youth for about 2 years now.  

Freeman is providing workshops for youth to learn how to prepare healthy, affordable meals. 

During each workshop they will prepare a meal and eat together. Each participant will also receive a copy of the recipe.

“The idea is to cook with them and show them the ropes,” said Stacey Dlamini, executive director of Pictou County Roots for Youth Society. “This also builds upon their independence as adults.”

In addition, all of the workshop recipes will be collected and made into a cookbook that will be given to the youth who stay and transition out of Roots for Youth housing.

Freeman believes that “poverty is based upon nutrition” and that “good, nutritious meals contribute to people’s overall success in life.”

Three of these workshops have already taken place and Freeman said he was surprised to see the interest in healthy food. 

“Cooking is a necessity,” said one participant. “One can only eat so many TV dinners before boredom sets in. Learning to cook a proper meal switches things up and brings a different energy to one's day.” 

Dlamini noted that they often see youth staying with them adding healthy options the house’s grocery list. 

“We see that the youth staying with us really care about eating healthy food. Often we get requests for specific fruits or even quinoa,” said Dlamini.

Providing youth with access to healthy food and teaching them how to prepare and budget meals are the main focus of these workshops but the benefits go far beyond food. 

Eating a meal together is very important. It provides a sense of community and builds relationships among youth and volunteers, which in turn contributes to positive mental health. 

She looks forward to continuing to bring youth from all backgrounds together to learn life skills and share a meal around the table. 

“I really believe that the extent to which we’re able to replicate here at Roots House what a healthy family does, is the extent to which we’ll be successful in helping young people change their lives,” said Dlamini. “This project provides us with a chance to connect over food, and to provide a skill that young people can take with them into their adult life. It’s a win-win.” 

In 2019, this program received full funding through the Pictou West, and Central and East Pictou Community Heath Board (CHB) Wellness Fund. 

Each year, Nova Scotia Health designates funds for each CHB in the province to distribute as Wellness Funds (WF).

This Wellness Fund is for non-profit groups working to improve health in their communities and must address the health priorities identified by CHBs in their current community health plans.