According to the University of Toronto’s Proof Food Insecurity Policy Research team, household food insecurity affects 1 in 6 Canadian children. In southern Ontario’s Halton region, 6.8 per cent of households were food insecure in 2016.
While many students in Halton have access to food throughout the school week, through initiatives like the school board’s breakfast, lunch and snack programs, weekends and summer breaks can create big gaps in their ability to access nutritious meals. Food4Kids is combatting this problem by providing healthy food to elementary students from low-income or at-risk environments during weekends throughout the school year, and into the summer with its Summer Feeding Program, the first regionalized program of its kind in Canada.
“When you go two and three days without food, certainly that’s not acceptable. We know that kids who miss meals aren’t advancing academically or socially, and physically they’re not doing as well as their peers,” explains Gayle Kabbash, community relations manager of Food4Kids. “Chronically hungry children also experience higher levels of anxiety, irritability and aggression.”
Since its launch in Hamilton in 2012, Food4Kids has served over 1,400 children in the Hamilton and Halton region. Children and families who struggle with food security are referred to it by school administration. Throughout the school year, students who are supported by the program have a bag of nutritious food discreetly placed into their backpacks each Friday. Once school is out for the summer, Food4Kids volunteers pack and deliver bins full of perishable and non-perishable food once a week to Summer Feeding Program families.
“This year, with the celebration of Canada’s 150, we decided to celebrate Canada’s bounty. Throughout the eight-week program, every week participants got a different recipe from Foodland Ontario, and all the ingredients they would need to make that food,” says Kabbash.
Feedback from participants in the program has been very positive. Responses from a survey distributed following the Summer Feeding program demonstrate what an impact the variety of available nutritious foods had to these households.
“One lady said, ‘I loved the recipes—great help to know how to cook food we never knew about,’” says Kabbash.