Susan Nalwoga, Ubuntu Bites program participant and Leanne Rabinowitz, Eva’s Health and Wellness Team Lead

As Eva’s Health and Wellness Team Lead, Leanne Rabinowitz understands the importance of culturally appropriate food.

“A huge issue for newcomers is shelters not providing food they’re familiar with. It can cause digestive upset, but they also miss the soul nourishing part of eating,” said Leanne.

Ubuntu Bites, a new program that brings together youth staying at Eva’s shelters with African asylum seekers new to Toronto, builds unity and empowerment through Africentric cuisine. Funded by the United Way of Greater Toronto as a pilot project and delivered by Eva’s, it’s another way we’re working to develop culturally responsive programs that cultivate and nurture youth agency at every intersection of Blackness.

For six weeks, three times a week, groups of eight plan meals and cook together, learn about nutrition, and earn food handlers’ certificates. Each participant is paid, which allows people waiting for work permits to earn an honorarium while giving back to the community. Two participants have even gone on to get jobs in restaurants.

Guest speakers include chefs, entrepreneurs, and other experts in the food space in Canada, who offer inspiration and information to participants.

Good food transcends generations

“Ubuntu Bites is an opportunity for people on an immigration journey at different points to make intergenerational connections and build community,” said Leanne.

The dishes they’ve made together include Luwombo from Uganda, Pilau from Kenya, and Jollof rice from Nigeria. Each meal feeds up to 100 asylum seekers who receive services at a nearby church.

“In the first two cohorts, we’ve had amazing cooks who are well-versed in the kitchen. We work together to figure out the right amount of spices and other ingredients as we scale up to feed so many people. We make some magical meals,” said Leanne.

They even have fun creating mashups of cultural flavours, including Cameroonian-style fried rice with Ugandan stew or Caribbean jerk chicken.

Leanne says the program has brought “good moment after good moment” as youth and asylum seekers support one another, make plans to stay in touch, and share information.

On the last Sunday of every cohort, the participants cook a final meal together and hand-serve it to asylum seekers.