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Our Healthy Beginnings Program Is Building Community For New Parents!

“This February our Healthy Beginnings team celebrated Black History Month, Family Day and  Pink Shirt Day. Thank you to Laurice for the wall drawing for Pink Shirt Day!”

An Interview with Tania Borja, Senior Coordinator of our Healthy Beginnings Program. By Laura Godfrey

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about the way we live our lives, but here at The Stop we have continued to find new ways to run our programs. Today we’re here to tell you about our Healthy Beginnings program, and how it offers perinatal nutrition, health and social support to people in our community.

Healthy Beginnings is open to anyone who is living in Toronto, pregnant and on a low income, regardless of immigration status. The program serves community members living at or below the poverty line who may be struggling through the pandemic with the ultimate goal of building supportive spaces. In the past, the program ended six months after the baby was born, but due to the pandemic, that has been extended to nine months post-partum, to offer extra support.

For two Wednesdays every month, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., participants pick up the following from The Stop’s headquarters at 1884 Davenport Rd: 

  • a food hamper (with items such as eggs, milk, yogurt, and dry goods like cereal, crackers, rice and pasta);
  • a $10 voucher for The Stop’s Good Food market, which opens two Wednesdays a month just for Healthy Beginnings participants, where they can choose their own affordable fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods to bring home;
  • a $30 President’s Choice gift card;
  • other useful items like baby formula, diapers, kids’ books and toiletries.

The Beginning of Our Healthy Beginnings Program

This program began in 1989, when food bank volunteers noticed that pregnant participants were falling through the gaps of the food bank system. As of December 2021, Healthy Beginnings is being run by Tania Borja, the program’s new Senior Coordinator. Tania knows first-hand how important getting that support can be, because she was a participant herself nearly a decade ago.

“Coming from that experience myself, eight years ago, it was a huge thing for me, supporting the household economy that way. It was not only very important, but very empowering,” Tania said. “The fact that there is education available in terms of webinars and workshops is really huge. For those experiencing parenthood for the first time, a lot of support is needed, so having that space where they can ask those questions, where they can feel reassured and have the opportunity to chat with other parents and professionals makes a big difference.”

Those webinars and workshops Tania mentions include a wide range of topics, from experts who discuss self-care and financial empowerment — as was offered in January as part of Self-Care Week — to free tax clinics, like the one that will be offered to participants this coming March.

“Caregivers need to take care of themselves as well,” Tania said about Self-Care Week.

 And The Stop’s partnerships with groups such as the Toronto Midwives Collective and Birth Mark Doulas help Healthy Beginnings participants access the information and services they need to have a healthier pregnancy and birth. The program’s partnership with Up With Women also helps women to end the cycle of poverty and find success in their careers.

Healthy Beginnings recently celebrated Family Day by distributing food hampers including a featured recipe, Roast Chicken and Vegetables, plus all of the necessary ingredients, including a whole chicken! 

If you’re expecting a baby and want to join the Healthy Beginnings Program, contact Tania Borja at tania@thestop.org.