For 13 years, Barry Londry, 67, has found himself inside the kitchen at Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH) every Tuesday. A volunteer chef for Community Lunch, Barry says he never expected to stay beyond a couple of weeks but now he’s a permanent fixture of the popular low-cost lunch program. “From day one, I’ve been doing the soups and I’ve gotten known for that, good or bad,” he says with a laugh. “Some people have nice compliments but I don’t think I live up to that.”
With a professional background as a chef and volunteer work with the rooftop garden at CNH, it was a perfect fit when Barry was first asked about participating in the lunch program. However, it’s his passion for food, culture and people that has encouraged him to stay. From congee to borscht and squash soup, Barry says he’s cooked a diversity of dishes at CNH thanks to the monthly menu prepared by the program’s head chef. “I enjoy doing it and it’s easy for me and fun,” he says.
Over the years, Barry has cooked for other events at CNH and in the broader Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood. He has also helped lead other kitchen programs at CNH and was instrumental in starting the Cheyenne Community Garden and the Norquay Food Forest. Barry continues to volunteer regularly at the gardens and participates in the seniors’ karaoke program every month. He also receives cleaning services through Better at Home. However, Barry is no “regular volunteer,” according to staff at CNH. Barry often shares his knowledge and skills within the neighbourhood, working collaboratively “to make the best conclusions,” says Emily Rees, Director of Community Development. “Without him, our programs won’t succeed.”
In fact, Barry’s wealth of knowledge, skills and interest in collaboration has allowed him opportunities that go beyond simply meeting new people at CNH. Through his time at the neighbourhood house, he’s also gained opportunities and experiences beyond his dreams. Most surprising, he says, was being invited to help prepare a feast for C.R.E.W., the Indigenous Youth Program’s annual canoe excursion for Indigenous youth. “We helped clean hundreds of crabs and got involved with a really nice, full dinner with smoked salmon, traditional salmon and chowder,” he says. “I wouldn’t have experienced that otherwise.”
In 2012, Barry recalls a cross-cultural meal he helped prepare for a group of city planners visiting CNH. Another year, he participated in and graduated from a course offered by the Community Development Department for community development and community capacity building at Capilano University. “I completed the course and we had a graduation party,” he says. “It was really great learning about the field by a really diverse group of people who were either working and/or volunteering in the industry.” Later, he was asked about his “dream kitchen” when CNH was building the Annex. Barry worked with the kitchen designer to help design and outfit the Annex kitchen with appliances and major equipment. “When I saw the Annex kitchen completed I felt proud for being a part of it,” he says.
When asked how CNH has shaped his life, it’s difficult for Barry to hold back tears. “It’s been a big part of my life,” he says. “I consider it my home, I really do.” He adds that it was difficult being away from CNH during closures in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic but he is relieved being able to be on-site and back to the kitchen. “It was a tough time but it’s just a big part of my life,” Barry says.” A very positive part.”
This story was originally written for our 2023 Annual Report, which highlights the experiences of program participants, volunteers and community members at CNH. To learn more about volunteering with at CNH, visit cnh.bc.ca/volunteer.