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Small funds lead to big collaboration with Northern Health IMAGINE grants

Robson Valley Community learning Project- Open Gate Garden in McBride, BC

“Food is the great engager,” says Loraina Stephen, Population Health Dietitian with Northern Health, “and smaller projects inspire more creative ideas and partnerships. We learned we have to be gentle with our community champions; in small communities of under 1,000 people they are  wearing multiple hats. It’s easy to overwhelm a community with a big project with lots of deliverables.”

When the Community Food Action Initiative first launched in 2007, health authorities received funds to increase food security for the BC population with a focus on vulnerable populations.  Northern Health needed to get creative to make a difference in food security for a scattered population across a huge geographic area-  as Stephen’s points out “Northern BC is the size of France.”

Northern Health’s IMAGINE grants are the inspired answer to this challenge. The small grants fund community-driven projects that support multiple health promotion goals.  Each year a diverse set of Northern Health programs collaborate to fund these small grants, for example:  the Community Food Action Initiative,  HIV Prevention,  Regional Chronic Disease Program, Injury Prevention, Tobacco Free Communities, Men’s Health and Road Health.

Many of the IMAGINE projects include a focus on healthy eating and food security. Previous successful projects (2014) that featured creative connections between food security and outdoor recreation included:

  • An alternative school in Quesnel that linked food preservation, winter sports, and tobacco cessation in their project. Students learned how to can the summer harvest as a way of eating healthy local food in the winter – the necessary fuel for taking active part in winter sports.   
  • In McBride, the Robson Valley Community Learning Project engaged vulnerable citizens in community gardening and spin-offs like community kitchens, markets, and feasts.
  • In Smithers, the Community Policing office linked local members of the RCMP to teach fly fishing to at-risk youth as both a lifelong recreational pursuit as well as a valuable local  food skill.

Stephen says “Small project funding has increased our sense at Northern Health that we can do really good community engagement; that we can partner with communities in a way that is really respectful to their needs and where they’re at. It’s building confidence on both sides.”

Going forward, Northern Health’s goals will focus on building collective impact, for instance, by networking food security projects together and providing more support for evaluation and storytelling. Mandy Levesque sums up the focus of her new role as Lead, Healthy Community Development- Integrated Community Granting “Communities really inspire each other. Our role at Northern Health is to encourage networking opportunities and to build capacity within the region to improve the health and overall wellness of our populations over the long-term.”


Food for Fuel- Our Outdoor Classroom and the Canada Winter Games Project in Chetwynd, BC


IMAGINE publications

Key outcomes and impact

The IMAGINE small grants:

  • Share funding from diverse programs across Northern Health to increase impact while addressing multiple health promotion goals, including food security.
  • Encourage creative projects and collaborations where communities decide where they can make a difference.

Lessons Learned

  • Strategies to build collective impact in food security in Northern BC include: growing the networks between food security projects in different communities, providing more support for evaluation and sharing communities’ stories more widely.
  • Communities have different capacities so the granting process needs to be flexible to be accessible, offering more support where needed, and mentoring unsuccessful applicants so they’re ready for the next cycle.

Key Partners and Funders

Various programs within Northern Health invest in the IMAGINE grants.  Funding partnerships differ year to year  depending on each program’s strategic goals and financial capacity. For the upcoming 2016 IMAGINE grant cycle key partners from  the Regional Northern Health programs include: Aboriginal Health, Chronic Disease, Elder Program, Perinatal Program Council, Population Health and Primary & Community Care.

For more information about this initiative: