Nourishing a Community

Jacqueline & Felicia Portrait

Two Mohawk College graduates, Jacqueline Cantar ’17 and Felicia Van Dyk ‘10 are helping provide food access for our most vulnerable community members.

By Lindy Yang ‘22

For two community organizers, their time at Mohawk College helped them develop the skills to bring community fridges to life in Hamilton. Jacqueline Cantar ‘17, founder of Community Fridges HamOnt, describes community fridges as a grassroots movement of outdoor, accessible fridges and pantries that contain free food and are open 24/7. Felicia Van Dyk ‘10, founder of the Locke Street Community Fridge, says community fridges are about “neighbours helping neighbours.”

Jacqueline remembers always being drawn to caring work, both in a professional and volunteer capacity. They attended Mohawk College as a mature student in order to expand their career opportunities. They were interested in gardening before starting their General Arts and Sciences diploma at Mohawk, but they hadn’t had much space or time to dedicate to growing their own food until they got involved with the community gardens at Mohawk during their summer semester.

Jacqueline says, “I got deeply interested in growing food on campus, which set off a deeper passion in regards to the importance of local food as well as the ability to grow your own food. My initial love and passion was community gardens. I learned a lot more about that on campus, and actually started working with the sustainability office.” Those experiences helped Jacqueline learn more about access to food and the importance of food sovereignty. They also appreciate how people have been successfully growing food on this land for so long.

When Jacqueline noticed community fridges appearing in Toronto during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were moved by how “people were really willing to go out of their way to come together and help each other” during difficult times. Jacqueline started having conversations with Hamilton community members about bringing the initiative to the city. They also posted on social media about this goal, and found that if you “let people in your community know that you're trying to make something happen, [generally] people are willing to help.” The community’s efforts led to three HamOnt fridges in the city today.

Everyone involved with the community fridges is a volunteer. Jacqueline says, “we don't want to be a small organization of a select few [people] that get paid to do this work, we always want it to be by the community for the community.”

“Anyone is welcome to access or donate to [the fridges] with no judgement, no questions asked,” Jacqueline says. “The community fridges work to break down the barriers that are frequently faced by folks that are trying to access food through other resources.”

When Felicia heard about the HamOnt fridges, she did some research and realized a significant portion of the population within her local neighbourhood faced food insecurity, despite the area having a reputation for affluence. There was space at her church on Locke Street for a community fridge, so she organized with other community members to develop the space.

As a values-oriented person, Felicia focuses on exploring her curiosity and building healthy relationships. She has always been curious about people and how the world works, so she appreciated how her professors in Mohawk’s Tourism & Travel diploma program “really encouraged curiosity and thinking.” She learned that tourism is not just about sales or marketing — it's about relationships. Felicia says, “That’s really carried with me, the relationships behind a sales transaction. Especially being more genuine about it as opposed to transactional.”

Later on, she completed the Event Management - Convention & Meeting program at Mohawk, which launched her career in the nonprofit world. “I've always had this helping spirit,” Felicia says. She worked with Mohawk College’s Alumni Department for a number of years, and undertook development work with student awards. Additional education in subjects such as community engagement and grant writing eventually led Felicia’s career into development work with other nonprofits, including her current role as the director of annual giving and donor stewardship at Shalem Mental Health Network. Felicia says fundraising is about building connections and sharing stories.

Felicia values building healthy relationships in all different parts of her life, whether that be with family, friends, colleagues, or the local community. For Felicia, healthy relationships involve being approachable and transparent— for example, in her volunteer work with the Locke Street Community Fridge, she makes sure her “contact information [is] openly accessible to anyone who needs to reach out or has any questions.”

Reflecting on the future of the community fridges, Jacqueline says one of their main goals and projects is to reduce food waste. They currently connect with local businesses to pick up donations. “[We] focus on food that would otherwise be thrown out at the end of the day,” they say. “If [the food] can get to people's hands and [into] people's bellies instead of in the garbage, then that’s perfect, because no one has to spend [extra] money, and the food's not being wasted.” They continue to look for more of those relationships. “If any local businesses can support us in that way, we’ve got a huge, wonderful team of volunteers that can do donation pickups,” Jacqueline says.

Going forward, Jacqueline says, “I am motivated to continue learning more and to support people in the ways that I think I’m able to with the skills and the time I have.” In both her community work and career, Felicia says she hopes to “inspire people to look at and approach things differently. It takes a village to make change.” Both graduates are changemakers in their communities inspiring others each day.

This story originally appeared in the print issue of Spring 2023 InTouch magazine.