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Jill Stafford

I think it was kismet that led me to Sumayya and Kaleyard. I was really just wasting time on Instagram and saw a post about Edinburgh and Sumayya’s top things to do. I was intrigued by the little bit of her story they told and looked her up. That was all it took. Within five minutes of discovering that she existed, I sent an email to see if there were any volunteer options available. I wanted to experience Kaleyard and see this very different social enterprise for myself. Lucky for me, there were a few volunteer spots open across several classes and I signed up for them all.

I’m not sure I really had any idea what I was getting myself into! I knew the Kaleyard was in its early stages, and I thought I understood the mission of bringing access to good food and community to those that might not otherwise find it. But it was an entirely different thing to see the smiles on the faces of class participants on my first day. The room was filled with elderly women most of whom didn’t have an interest in food or cooking, or they were just plain tired of cooking. They’d done enough of that in their lives and seemed a little dubious at first. But as I listened to and watched Sumayya interact with these women and she got them chopping and sautéing, I saw a sea change sweep the room. One of the women was talking about how she had never used a red pepper before in her life. Another was won over to actually liking cilantro after claiming a distaste. And yet another participant found herself asking for seconds on a dish, surprising everyone in the room who knew her to be an incredibly light eater.

I would see this same sense of community and shift in energy in the room each time I volunteered. I would wind my way in and out of the participants, gathering their compostables, washing knives, cutting boards, and anything else I could get my hands on. It felt like I was providing a needed service. I was allowing Sumayya to focus on the food and the people while I focused on ensuring people had what they needed to be successful. 

One of my favourite parts of each class was when the students sat down at the end and collectively shared the dishes they had prepared. There was a lot of talk, laughter and head nods as people dove into their dishes. Most of which they had never tried before that day. I think that is the aim of Kaleyard, creating community around great food. I will definitely try to volunteer with them again and would love to be a part of their continued success.


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