TRURO - Aaron Tipping smiles as he looks around a room of about a dozen friends, knowing that his life is drastically different than a few years ago.
The 19-year-old from Truro has struggled with anger, grief and depression issues that made his life miserable for quite a while.
"I was very angry all the time and I'd take it out on people. I needed something to help me."
Last summer, he sought informal weekly counselling from a representative at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which ultimately resulted in the formation of Comfort Foods. The program is offered Wednesdays from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the CMHA SOUP Cafe for ages 16 to 19 and brings them together to buy groceries, prepare a menu and home-cooked meal and clean up. The group also takes the opportunity to discuss daily struggles such as relationship issues, schools and resume creation, to name only a few topics.
"It saved my life," he said of the program that now has upwards of 17 youth.
"It changed me. It helped me get along with others and it's good to be around people. I probably would've continued in the path I was on before ... destruction and depression," said Tipping. "And food ties everyone together and we learn to cook and co-operate."
Truro's Derrick Sampson, 18, has also been participating in Comfort Foods since its inception. Sampson has struggled with depression and, in the past, would wear masks out in public to remain unnoticed.
"It's nice to have something that makes me want to get out of bed. If I didn't have this I'd be anti-social and not as good in relationships and I didn't cook before so I've learned how to."
Participants of Comfort Foods encourage others to join the fun. The youth-led gathering is open to all teenagers, not just at-risk youth.
Chris Ripley, a youth outreach worker with the CMHA and Comfort Foods, said he's seen the youth grow since they have come together for the weekly event.
"Good health is having basic needs met and before you can tackle other issues in life you must meet those needs like having a good meal and belonging," said Ripley.
Ripley encourages teens to get involved in the program. More information can be obtained by calling 895-4211 and asking for a youth outreach worker.