It Takes a Village by Paul Seale
When ATN Access first dreamed of opening a social enterprise grocery store in London, executive director Vicki Mayer thought it would be downtown but, she says, “The Old East Village wanted us more.” Now in its second year, the OEV Grocer found a home in the London Food Incubator at 630 Dundas Street where it serves as a live classroom to train people with workplace barriers and returns the love to the neighbourhood that wanted it.
“There are so many ways to get involved here,” says Paul Seale, manager of community relations. “We loved OEV Clean & Green Day and meeting people at the OEV Block Party.” But, seeking deeper relationships with their new neighbours, the OEVG also recruited a community advisory council of committed volunteers to provide extra feedback.
Jo-Dee Phoenix is one of those who stepped up. “The OEVG is important,” she says, “because it brings value to those who are differently abled and makes fresh food available every day in an area that was once a food desert.” She adds, “The neighbourhood is so diverse, and it’s exciting to present all those interests to the store and be heard.” Amongst the council’s accomplishments is a labelling system at the OEVG to make it easier for people with dietary restrictions or preferences to find what they’re looking for, including organic, gluten-free, and vegetarian options. Council member Maya Clarke says that by reflecting the neighbourhood so well, the store has become a community hub. “Community always revolves around food and the kitchen. The grocer is the OEV’s kitchen.”
As a gathering place, Seale says, the store seizes every opportunity for relationship-building. “We say hello to everyone and offer help to everyone. No one is invisible here, and every customer has our complete attention. We really care about every visitor, and community is what happens when you genuinely care about the people in your life.”
To learn more about the OEV Grocer’s Community Advisory Council or apply to become a member, click here.