Tenant-run food bank strengthens bonds and organizing

12 February 2021 / by Sam Dharmasena
West Lodge tenant-run food bank graphic, black lettering against yellow background

Paterson Hodgson is an artist and community organizer who started a tenant-run food bank in Parkdale’s West Lodge Towers. The food bank operates on an almost bi-weekly basis, distributing donations to tenants at 103-105 West Lodge Ave. Its presence is also shifting the sense of community within the building. Lately tenants are cooking for one another and supporting immunocompromised or quarantined neighbours. Ultimately, Hodgson hopes their food bank can be a catalyst for stronger community organizing. They tell CJRU about their vision, lessons learned and more. 

“Capitalism alienates us from each other, you know? We work all day, we have our kids, and we have to make our own meals, buy our own stuff … We’ve lost the collective and community that used to exist. People used to share stuff and share workloads,” Hodgson explains.

While the food bank began in November, West Lodge tenants have been advocating for rent relief and forgiveness since the start of the pandemic. Hodgson says they mobilized quickly because their building is home to many communities that have been hit hard by the pandemic. For instance, the West Lodge towers are home to artists, immigrants, refugees, disabled people on ODSP and seniors. Hodgson has been living at 105 West Lodge Ave for four years and notes that some tenants have called the building home for decades. Many tenants are meeting their neighbours for the first time, thanks to the food bank. As a result, they are hearing about their struggles beyond food insecurity and how to support one another. Hodgson views the food bank as a vehicle of sorts, providing food as well as demonstrating the power of organizing efforts.

“Running this food bank has built so much confidence. People are like, ‘wow we just started this and it’s working and helping people. We didn’t need the landlord to do it, the government, or even non-profits in the neighbourhood. we just did it ourselves,'” they explain.

boxes of donated food, lined up on the sidewalk leading up to the West Lodge apartment building.
Early days of West Lodge tenant-run food bank | Photo courtesy of Paterson Hodgson

When starting a tenant-run food bank, Hodgson emphasizes the importance of communication amongst community members. Before launching, they spent a few summer days talking to neighbours and collecting contact info. They set up tables outside their building with free food provided by The People’s Pantry. Through these efforts, Hogdson got to hear about tenants experiences with food insecurity. In November they started distributing food in their lobby and even took over an unlocked apartment unit for a day. They’re currently operating out of an empty unit offered by a former tenant. 

Hodgson says that donations come from various sources but it’s usually neighbours in Parkdale, Liberty Village and Roncesvalles contributing. They’ve spread the word by posting in online community groups and have recently set up a website that accepts monetary donations.  Moving forward, they hope to build relationships with non-profits too. Hodgson notes that food insecurity is a complex, structural problem that one DIY food bank can’t resolve. However, they hope it opens the door to even more organizing. Hodgson mentions that they have lots of of ideas on how to channel the food bank’s momentum towards more causes and tenant-run projects.

To hear more from Paterson Hogdson, listen to the interview below.