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Photos: Soup’s on at this new social enterprise in New West

More than food: Dan’s Diner is serving yummy food and supporting youth in New Westminster

Dan’s Diner is serving up much more than food – it’s serving up hope for better lives.

Dan’s Legacy, a registered charity, and the City of New Westminster have announced the launch of a new social enterprise, Dan’s Diner, which offers at-risk youth an opportunity to gain valuable skills to help them succeed, while providing local community members with affordable, nutritious meals. The city provided Dan’s Legacy with some funding it had received from the Building Safer Communities Fund, which is designed to decrease gun and gang violence among youth by providing supportive diversion programs.

“The side effect of the program is wonderful food,” Dan’s Legacy program manager Tom Littlewood told the Record. “The real heart of the program is reconnecting youth that need reconnecting – therapy, housing, food, all that kind of stuff. Getting them stabilized, trained in the kitchen, and then off to work. That's the heart of it.”

Jackie Marchand, a director with Dan’s Legacy, said Dan’s Diner is the new phase to the charity’s food service industry job skills training program.  She said “recovered food” is being repurposed at Dan’s Diner instead of going into the landfill.

Under the direction of professional chefs, trainees learn how to repurpose these ingredients into pre-packed soups, stews, and curries.

Community members can drop by Dan’s Diner (#150-131 11th St.) between 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, and purchase food to go – with heated, refrigerated and frozen products available. The day’s offerings will be posted on a whiteboard.

According to Littlewood, Dan’s Legacy collects surplus food from various retailers and distributes it to food banks and food programs in the city.

“We collected daily, about 50,000 pounds a month and we distribute it throughout all the food banks in the area,” he said. “About 2,000 people get this food, and we keep some of the food that we can't really give out to food banks – you can't give a whole chicken or a leg of lamb to a kid who's got a microwave. So we use that in producing this product.”

Some of the food that’s collected is used in the Dan’s Legacy culinary training program located at the Union Gospel Mission in New West. Some will now be used at Dan’s Diner, where three or four students will be employed after graduating from the culinary training program.

Littlewood said Dan’s Diner will be serving up tasty food at affordable prices – with 32-ounce containers, designed to serve a family of four, selling for $9 or less.

“We know that a lot of people that are working are having to go to food banks,” he said. “This will take some of the pressure off.”

Dan’s Legacy takes a holistic approach to helping young people, recognizing they may have a variety of needs – including housing, food security, and clothing.

Dan’s Diner is an evolution of Dan’s Legacy’s Intro to Cook program, which has operated for more than two years. Of the 46 Intro to Cook graduates, the majority have transitioned into the workforce or higher training for Red Seal certification; the remainder continue to benefit from the support of Dan’s Legacy’s no-fee counselling program.

According to the City of New Westminster, Dan’s Legacy provides no-fee therapeutic counselling and life-skills intervention programs to youth affected by trauma-based mental health and addictions issues. In the past year, the organization has helped more than 600 youth stabilize and begin working towards their educational, employment, and recovery goals.

Mary Jane (MJ) Boesche-Munroe, a youth client with Dan’s Legacy, said she is eternally grateful to the staff at Dan’s Legacy, who have provided “unwavering encouragement and support” through some challenging times.

“Dan's Legacy was there for me, and in so many more ways than I ever expected,” she said. “They helped uplift me by creating this beautiful experience of coming together to learn and to cook. The chefs that work here are incredibly talented, and I feel so blessed that I ever got to work with them and learn with them.”

Dan’s Diner is open for business

William Nelson, Elder-in-residence at the City of New Westminster, opened Wednesday’s grand opening of Dan’s Diner with a blessing.

Officials from the municipal, provincial and federal governments were on hand for the official opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Dan's Diner brings together so many worthy initiatives,” said Mayor Patrick Johnstone. “It brings together providing low- or no-cost food and meals to the community. It brings in the food security aspects that are about recycling food. It provides training and critical support to youth. It also builds a legacy of leadership in that youth, so that they can continue to pay those results forward to the next generation.”

Dan’s Legacy was created in memory of a young man who died of an overdose at the age of 19, after self-medicating with hard drugs after surviving sexual abuse.

New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian said Dan’s Legacy was born out of tragedy, but it’s gone on to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of young people throughout the Lower Mainland. He said Dani’s Diner is an “exciting new addition” to the organization’s programs, and will make a difference in New Westminster.

“It will provide, of course, low-cost meals to people in this area, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head, and it will also provide the youth at risk with that valuable training that is so in need in our job market in the Lower Mainland,” he said. “As we see with the hospitality industry more and more, there is a call for having skilled people in the hospitality industry; there is no doubt that Dan's Diner will fill this void.”

Marchand said Dan’s Legacy is able to provide “wraparound support programs” because of funding it’s received from the provincial government. She said youth are able to access critical supports such as therapists, social workers and outreach workers, who assist them with everything from their basic needs to trauma-informed counselling.

New Westminster MLA Jennifer Whiteside said Dan’s Legacy has had “life-changing impacts” on kids. In 2022 alone, she said Dan’s Legacy helped 600 youth find purpose, stability, community and ways to build their lives.

“These ripple effects are really critical and form a critical part of our child and youth mental health system,” said Whitehead, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions.

With youth homelessness and mental health issues on the rise, Whitehead said it’s more important than ever for adults to do everything they can to support kids.