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Nanaimo women introduce tokens to help feed homeless

NANAIMO – Purchased tokens given to less fortunate can be redeemed later for nutritious food.
Liz Kawahara

Nanaimo may not have a subway system, but two women are hoping their token program goes a long way for the community.

Cheryl Prince, co-owner of Prince Acres farm and a registered holistic nutritionist, and Liz Kawahara, a Vancouver Island University student, are the organizers behind a new initiative that focuses on sharing healthy food. It is about to be implemented at one downtown restaurant.

Beginning in a matter of days, individuals will be able to purchase a small plastic token from Gabriel's Cafe, which can then be redeemed at a later date for a bowl of soup. The idea is intended to help out the less fortunate and replace the traditional way of giving money to homeless individuals and those with a limited income.

"We can't just look at look at people who are homeless and say that is not my problem because nobody knows when it is going to be their problem," Prince said. "We have a lot of homelessness here in Nanaimo and a lot of people that are hungry."

A single token costs $5.50.

Prince and Kawahara said they were inspired by a similar program that is conducted by Save On Meats in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, adding they wanted a place, such as Gabriel's Cafe, where the less fortunate could sit down and feel a part of the community.

"We are segregating a group of people that already have mental health problems and that didn't resonate with me very well," Prince said.

Prince said it was important to find a business that offered healthy food, adding that she reached out to Gabriel's Cafe because it often purchases ingredients from local farms, including her own.

"You can go and buy someone a piece of pizza but that is not a nutritious meal," Prince said. "We want to keep it to being healthy and supporting the farmers in the community and supporting food production and availability for everybody in our community."Prince and Kawahara are hoping that other businesses in the community pick up on the token idea, adding that it has the potential to be implemented for all kinds of stores and restaurants.

"We are hoping that it can get into something bigger if more businesses want to … you could have a little sample of each place. There are lots of possibilities," Kawahara said.For more information, please visit