A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens recently launched a pilot project at three Guelph elementary schools to provide weekend take-home food packages for some of the city’s most vulnerable school children who face severe food insecurity at home.
The Food4Kids Waterloo Wellington initiative was spearheaded by volunteers from four Guelph Rotary Clubs and works in partnership with The Seed and Guelph Community Health Centre to provide the food packages to children directly referred by participating schools, and any at-home siblings, 14 and under.
Currently the group consists of 14 volunteers who shop for and assemble the packages that include easy-to-prepare, kid-friendly meals and snacks based on a nutritionally-balanced weekly meal plan.
They are distributed to schools each Friday, placed directly in backpacks to ensure discreet, non-stigmatizing delivery, said Terrie Jarvis, one of the Rotarian organizers who worked for close to a year to help raise $20,000 to launch the program.
“[On April 13,] we made our fourth weekly delivery of food packs to 41 children at the three schools involved in our pilot program. At least those 41 children won’t worry about whether they’ll eat this weekend,” said Jarvis.
Food insecurity refers to inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. According to data collected from Statistics Canada and the Canadian
Community Health Survey in 2014, household food insecurity affects one in six Canadian children under the age of 18 – with an estimated 1,500 children afflicted from within Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin.
Many local schools already offer in-school nourishment programs and food is available to all children throughout the week, but Jarvis and her group wanted to fill a serious gap in food access over weekends and school holidays for children who often miss meals and don’t know when they will eat next.
“This wasn’t on my radar at all a year ago. We’ve got so many food banks and all these things. It was a lightning moment, personally, for me. I decided right then that I had to do something about this,” Jarvis said.
When children are nourished consistently, they become more engaged, Jarvis said. They have better attendance and performance at school because they
aren’t coming in hungry, and their health and well-being are positively affected.
An unexpected benefit is that once parents realize there is no “catch”, they start to engage more too.
“More than anything, it’s simply about poverty. It’s not parents who don’t want to feed their kids.”
Going forward, Jarvis said the group hopes to expand into more schools and double their reach per year. They are working to raise $40,000 through Rotarian events within the community, and seeking out corporate sponsors. Currently it costs $410 a year to provide one child with the weekend food package.
To learn more about Food4Kids Waterloo Wellington and to make a donation, visit the website.