Left to Right: Laura Gaylord (Mental Health Outreach Intern), Cassie Greenough (Community Kitchen Founder), and Kaitlyn Evoy (Mental Health Outreach Intern) pose in with the Community Kitchen event sign Photo credit: Kassia Skorzewska

In order to bring mental health outreach to students living in Algonquin College Residence, a weekly community dinner program was established a year and a half ago.

Every Wednesday night, the Community Kitchen program invites students living in residence to come down to the back lobby and interact with their fellow peers in a dinner setting. At the same time, they are also being introduced to mental health subjects which they wouldn’t usually be comfortable talking about.

“It helps a lot with some of our residents that do have some difficulties with social interaction,” said child and youth care intern, Kaitlyn Evoy, 20. “I’ve found that a lot of residents that I’ve engaged with have found similarities in the people they have met at Community Kitchen.”

Believing it would start out small, Cassie Greenough, 32, the Community Kitchen’s organizer, was surprised when over one hundred residents showed up to the inaugural dinner a year and a half ago.

Throughout the school year, the dinner event will host talks for Let’s Toke About It, Bell Let’s Talk Day and sexual health advice.

“We’re giving information on harm reduction, and safe cannabis use, and cannabis storage in the residence, and we even have police officers and health promoters come in,” Greenough said about the Let’s Toke About It event.

Aside from the mental health aspect of the dinners, Wednesday nights also give residents a chance to feel a sense of belonging while they are far from home.

“I’ve had comments from students that say I don’t feel comfortable cooking in the kitchens around here,” said Laura Gaylord, 25, a social service worker intern. “I haven’t cooked a home meal in a while, so it feels like a home meal, it feels like I’m at home.”

As a student, Jade Rogers-Baptiste, 18, has noticed the inclusion she has felt since she started coming to Community Kitchen in September.

“I feel like they allow me to feel more comfortable in the school in a sense of community because I can talk to more people and it helps me make more friends and stuff like that,” said Rogers-Baptiste, a first-year animation student. “It’s awesome.”

As the Community Kitchen keeps evolving, so does the experience the interns have with working in mental health outreach.

“I feel like it forces you to get out of your shell and connect with people you might not necessarily would have had a chance to connect with,” Gaylord said.