Neighbourhood houses in December are buzzing with excitement, celebration and soul-warming food. Whether it’s our childcare programs decorating the halls of our houses with stars and stockings, seniors joining together to share songs of peace, or neighbourhood families gathering around a communal table sharing a warm bowl of dahl and roti - this is always an important time of year for connection and community. Especially for those missing family and friends.

Neighbourhood houses are special places throughout the Lower Mainland, where neighbours create a welcoming, safe and comfortable space for all members of the community. They are especially important to newcomers.

Five years ago, Rizalina Gallardo left her home in the Philippines with her husband and her 17-year-old son, Ryan, and arrived in Vancouver. It shook up their lives unimaginably. “I told myself, I was just adjusting,” shares Rizalina, “but I kept thinking, I should not have come here. It changed my whole life.”

Without a support network of family and friends, the Gallardos endured two challenging years as newcomers to Canada. Her relationship at home became strained and toxic - Rizalina’s husband left her and her son, and moved out. With rent to pay and groceries to buy, Rizalina had to work two jobs to support her son. She became depressed and exhausted, losing sleep from the stress of food insecurity and loneliness.

It was then 2020, the early days of the pandemic, and like so many families, Rizalina found it impossible to stay healthy, while covering all her bills. At that time a co-worker suggested she connect with the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House Food Hub, a place where she could access weekly groceries for free, and have opportunities for new friendships. Over a thousand people access this neighbourhood house’s food hub every year, and without the strain of groceries, Rizalina could pay her rent without worrying.

Now, they have more than just groceries – their relationship with their neighbourhood house brings them connection and friendship, too.

All of ANHBC’s eight neighbourhood houses and camp have their own ways of sharing food along with togetherness, systems change and skill-sharing. Food is an opportunity to address a number of other issues in a person’s life — from isolation, physical and mental health, to community building and relationships.

“I am proud to be a part of the Neighbourhood House Family.” shares Rizalina who is estranged from her family and far away from her home in the Philippines. “I visit the neighbourhood house every week not only for the food, but also for the relationships….now, I am strong enough to take care of my family.”

Rizalina now feels the joy of contributing and becoming a leader within her community. She runs events and volunteers for her neighbourhood house to give back to others. Because of the support at the Food Hub, she feels so secure in her heart that she gives freely and invites others to join her at the neighbourhood house.

“The neighbourhood house is an important place within the community. Together we aren’t only helping one person, but the entire neighbourhood,” Rizalina explains. “It’s for the community, everything is shared and everyone is invited. I’ve experienced all these things at the neighbourhood house - when I am there, my problems are gone. I am at ease, because I have found family there.”

Rizalina’s story of isolation and food insecurity is one of thousands we encounter at all of the ANHBC neighbourhood houses and camp throughout the year. Neighbourhood houses are uniquely well suited to welcome and support newcomers because our programs are created by and for the neighbourhood - the very definition of grassroots community building.

But neighbourhood houses do more than just meet people's basic needs: we provide opportunities for connection and growth which is so deeply needed this time of year. By coming together our neighbourhoods thrive, and we invite you to join the movement by donating to Neighbourhood House Food Programs today!