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Carol Gray, chef at Sistering, prepares lunch at the women's agency which serves homeless, marginalized and low-income women in Toronto.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Carol Gray, food access co-ordinator and chef, Sistering, Toronto

How do you combine your love of food with your desire to support programs and services that help women gain greater control over their circumstances? You join Carol Gray, 43, for Kitchen Sisters, a fundraising benefit at Toronto's Mildred`s Temple Kitchen on International Women's Day, March 8.

Kitchen Sisters, launched last year, brings together seven of Toronto's top women chefs, including Mildred's Donna Dooher, to benefit Sistering, an organization that provides an array of services to women experiencing homelessness and poverty. Sistering, which serves hot breakfasts and lunches seven days a week, has been supporting homeless, underhoused and low-income women in Toronto since 1981.

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First Step

"My love for cooking led me to open a catering business, which led me to work at the Stop Community Food Centre. I had always known about Sistering, but while at the Stop I heard they needed a chef and so I applied in 2005, and here I am."

Success

"Know that women feel safe and able to ask for what they need with no fear of judgment. For instance, a woman who needed some extra food for herself and her child knows she can approach me about this and knows that she will be treated with respect."

Donations

"The money raised from Kitchen Sisters will go toward a kitchen expansion and a new commercial stove and refrigerator. We are hoping to raise $250,000."

Challenges

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"The number of women needing meals and other services is on the rise. In 2009 we were serving 100 lunches per day; today we serve 200 lunches a day. We must increase our space and bring our kitchen up to code if we are going to continue to provide meals to women in need."

What keeps you going?

"The impact of having a safe space, a sense of community with other women, access to food and other basic needs, as well as assistance with housing, employment, health and immigration issues cannot be underestimated. This inspires me to keep on going with my work here."

Aha! moment

"I took a year off to study community development work and realized how much I missed my work at Sistering. I have seen remarkable strides made by women. For example, one woman who became connected to our employment program was able to move on to a college program and is now close to completion."

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"I would like to see Michelle Obama embrace this because she has a love for her family, speaks about the importance of education, and the future role of women. Her focus on nutritious meals for children is also important."

This interview has been condensed and edited

Farah Mohamed is president & CEO of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for Action Figure to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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