Bernard Betel Centre expands Meals on Wheels program

Bernard Betel Centre kitchen staff are packing meals for the Meals on Wheels program in their newly expanded kitchen at Reena.

The Bernard Betel Centre food services department has expanded their Meals on Wheels program, moving to the Reena, Toby and Henry Battle Developmental Centre located in Vaughan.

“The Meals on Wheels program started approximately 25 years ago at Betel and has expedientially grown to provide approximately 200 meals each day, five days a week,” Gail Gould, the executive director of the Bernard Betel Centre, said. “We have basically outgrown our facility. I needed to look at innovative ways to find space for us to respond to the needs of the increasing number of seniors in the community.”

The popular program directly provides tasty and nutritious kosher meals to marginalized or impoverished seniors and veterans, as well Circle of Care Adult Day Program participants and residents of many Reena group homes. The meals are delivered by volunteers servicing areas from Centre Street to Wilson Avenue and from Dufferin Street to Yonge Street.

Reena was founded in 1973 by a group of families in the Jewish community as a practical alternative to institutions for those with developmental disabilities. Some 47 years later, the agency has served over 1,000 people in a variety of residential locations.

“We are a leader in the province and nationally in terms of influencing the developing of housing solutions for people with intellectual developmental disabilities,” Bryan Keshen, the CEO and president of Reena, said.

The Bernard Betel Centre and Reena have a long history of working together.

“We are extending the positive relationship that Bernard Betel and Reena have and are creating a stronger bond forward,” Keshen said.

Gould added, “It seemed like a natural fit, although, the kitchen at Reena needed to be retrofitted – it hadn’t been used for twenty some odd years.”

The joint vision is that the Bernard Betel Reena Culinary Training Program will provide training to approximately 20-25 Reena participants each year in an intensive 12-week training period.

“Maximizing our use of communal space and using it for the best possible outcomes, we are going to be able to collectively produce more meals on wheels – providing more meals to the community and down the line be able to provide to those who will be living on campus of the site on Clark Avenue. We are building a 79-unit housing project next door for people with disabilities, so having a food service next door is going to ultimately be wonderful for these residents,” Keshen said. “And then the other benefit is the employment training program.”

The double mitzvah culinary training program will help to end hunger and poverty in the community.

“We are expanding employment opportunities for people living with intellectual developmental disabilities people on the autism spectrum,” Keshen said.

Individuals will be taught cooking and food services under the supervision and guidance of Bernard Betel Centre professional chefs, who have experience working with individuals with barriers to employment.

“This model is based on the Daily Bread Food Bank where one of my staff had worked – (it’s) a kitchen training program that teaches individuals with barriers to employment all aspects of the food industry by chefs, and would provide education and employment opportunities, as well as to be able to broaden the scope and reach of the meal program,” Gould said.

Reena was successful in securing an Ontario Trillium Foundation capital grant.

“Under the supervision of the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR), who we work very closely, we were able to get ourselves ready to start cooking in our new state-of-the-art kitchen,” Gould said. “Once we are able to start the training with our Reena counterparts, we will be able to teach Reena all aspect of the food services industry. The participants will be trained in safe food handling, cooking, baking, presentation, serving and administration, in order to get employment and learn job and life skills in the kitchen.”

Reena is running the culinary skills training program in conjunction with Centennial College.

“They are building the curriculum for us,” Ann Szabo, the resource manager at Reena, said. “Centennial College is going to be delivering the first cohort and they are going to be training us so that we can deliver it ourselves. This will be for people who are looking for employment, but not just in restaurants, but in hotels and in kitchens. It can lead to all kinds of other things. The technical skills will be taught by Betel, with oversight by a facilitator and job coach from Reena.”

The Bernard Betel Centre is a vibrant, non-profit community centre located in North Toronto for adults 55+ providing programs to over 5,000 individuals each year. The centre’s café is open Monday through Friday and remains available for catering of special occasions, take-out or life cycle events.