newsdog Facebook

Heart of Riversdale initiative aims to bridge community through nourishment

Delhi News-Record 2019-10-10 17:30:40

In her first two years of business at Soul Foods Conscious Grocer, Mallory Guenther found herself saying “no” a lot.

“I was saying ‘no’ to some of the requests from people who were coming into the store,” Guenther said. “Each time I said no, I would feel the depth of that response, like I was unable to serve the needs of the Riversdale community that Soul Foods was in.”

In response, Guenther started The Heart of Riversdale Community Market and Cafe, a social enterprise aimed at breaking barriers that prevent people from accessing food, support and community.

“One of the overarching personal beliefs I have is that the health of our society is a shared social responsibility. If we come together and share our personal stories, that’s where there’s opportunity to break down gaps in understanding,” she said.

Mallory Guenther is the driving force behind The Heart of Riversdale, located at Soul Foods on 20th Street West in Saskatoon. Owen Woytowich / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Heart of Riversdale is largely volunteer-run and is centred around its Pay What You Can (PWYC) program.

“There are many people in the neighbourhood who exist on a lower income budget, so I started to ask myself how I could provide high-quality nourishment, but break down that financial obstacle,” Guenther said.

“What we found with PWYC was really inspiring, and people could pay whatever price was affordable to them. Sometimes when people heard what we were doing they would even pay more than the asking price.”

Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, said he’s proud to watch businesses in the area adapt to the needs of the community on a variety of fronts. 

“In this case, with food services, it’s trying to accommodate. Mallory and her team have been very fluid in how they respond in trying to meet the needs in ensuring we have a strong food presence in the area.”

Pshebylo said this type of responsiveness from business owners is one of the Riversdale BID’s strongest selling points. 

Shane Armstrong, who lives in Riversdale, said the PWYC program is a helpful initiative.

“I’ve been going over there quite a bit and I’ve used the PWYC program a couple times,” Armstrong said. “Right now I’m not working and it’s been tough lately, so it just helps out at home.”

Various products found at The Heart of Riversdale located at Soul Foods on 20th Street West in Saskatoon. Owen Woytowich / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The Heart of Riversdale is made possible through a partnership with Bulk Basket, a bulk foods grocery store committed to reducing waste, which will move into the building in November. Guenther is currently looking for another home for the market that could also house other pop-up and permanent vendors. All profits generated through market, café and retail sales would go back into programs.

Guenther said the next big goal is to secure enough funding to launch a mentorship program that would offer skills development and job opportunities to the community.

In an effort to raise ongoing support, Guenther chose a social enterprise model, where supporters provide funding through Patreon, a subscription-based program with various commitment tiers, starting at $5.55 a month.

She sees The Heart of Riversdale as a “bridge of understanding,” she said.

“In Riversdale the rejuvenation (of the neighbourhood) is happening, and we’re right in the middle of that. If you look down the street in one direction, it looks and feels one way, but if you look down the street in the other direction, it looks and feels a different way. I think there’s a really beautiful opportunity for there to be a bridge there.”

Armstrong noted that it provides a warm environment for people from all walks of life.

“It has helped me and I can imagine it has helped the community, especially people who are homeless. What I’ve noticed is that when people do come in there, everybody is friendly. If they’re having a bad day, (the community) changes it around and makes it a good day.”

A chef prepares menu items at The Heart of Riversdale, located at Soul Foods on 20th Street West in Saskatoon. Owen Woytowich / Saskatoon StarPhoenix