City Palate
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The Harvest Issue - September October 2017

Feeding Hungry kids

by Shelley Boettcher, photos by Regan Johnson

“I’M HUNGRY.”
That’s a phrase every parent knows. But for some, feeding their kids is a challenge. Perhaps there’s not enough money for three meals a day. Maybe they’re an im-migrant family struggling with language and other barriers, right down to shopping and preparing food. Some parents simply don’t have good nutrition knowledge. And sometimes, busy kids with extra-curricular activities don’t take the time for meals.

Any of these problems, and many others, can add up to “food insecurity,” where kids don’t get enough to eat, or have a nutritionally poor diet. In short, they’re hun-gry. Hunger can cause behavioural problems, low energy and poor academic perfor-mance. Chronic hunger can have long-term physical and mental health effects.

IN-SCHOOL PROGRAMS

Both the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and the Calgary Catholic School District are addressing this issue. Often, they do so at an individual level – teachers spot a problem and take action.
Tennille Cooper, corporate partnerships, CBE, says, “It comes down to helping relieve a child’s stress by providing adequate nutrition in a safe, supportive environment.”

Currently, 16 schools in the CBE system have emergency pantries supplied by the Calgary Food Bank’s Food Link program (more details below). There’s also Fuel for School, which provides a nutritious breakfast to kids in about 20 elementary schools; each participating school serves 20 to 60 meals daily, totaling more than 100,000 breakfasts a year.

“Health and education are interrelated,” says Karen Ryhorchuk, senior commu-nications specialist with the Calgary Catholic School District. “We take a holistic approach to feeding body and mind through positive experiences and inclusive food programs.”

She notes the importance of an approach that doesn’t single out students who don’t get enough to eat, for whatever reason. “Anyone can participate in our food programs, with no judgment,” she says. “Healthy, nutritious food delivers huge benefits from improved academic performance to better self-esteem.”

PROVINCIAL FUNDING IS PART OF THE PIE

In November, 2016, the Alberta government announced a new pilot program, Future Ready. As part of this framework, Alberta Education gave 14 Alberta school boards $250,000 each for the 2016/17 school year, to establish or enhance existing nutrition programs. The government expects the initial investment of $3.5 million to increase to as much as $20 million by the 2018/19 school year and available to all Alberta schools. An education component of the program helps students, teachers and parents learn about reading food labels, as well as how to choose and prepare healthy foods.

Two Calgary Catholic schools are participating in this program. In those schools, pro-vincial funding supports three hot lunches per week – provided by Meals on Wheels – and two bag lunches weekly from Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids. Three CBE schools are also in the government pilot, using the grant to fund breakfasts – and any leftovers are used at lunch or as snacks, making the most of the funding.

COLLABORATING AND COORDINATING: SUPPORT FROM MANY SOURCES

Other school food programs are provided by many agencies, including the CALGARY FOOD BANK.

“We are more than hampers,” says D.D. Coutts, manager, communications and development. “Because we have bulk purchasing power, we can supply food to many organizations through our Food Link program. We support more than 170 programs, including Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids and Meals on Wheels. Plus we have two programs providing direct support to schools.”
One of those is the Emergency Pantry Shelf. Participating schools obtain snacks and lunches from the Food Bank, which teachers can distribute as needed. The other is Weekends and More (WAM). The Food Bank prepares two days of nutritious, simple food that doesn’t require much preparation. Students pick up WAM packages on Fridays to take home in their backpacks, making the program discreet and private.

WAM contents must be parent-approved, and we try to accommodate prefer-ences,” Coutts says. Over 10 months in 2015, WAM provided some 4,600 bags, and 2016 saw an increase – 1,760 bags in the first three months alone.

BROWN BAGGING FOR CALGARY’S KIDS (BB4CK) provides daily lunches for some 3,200 kids in 210 city schools, and also facilitates connections between schools and community groups. Executive director Tanya Koshowski explains, “Food is purchased or donated from partner businesses. Volunteers make the lunches – sandwiches, fruit and vegetables, healthy snacks – that are delivered to schools in bins. The schools determine best-fit distribution, whatever works for them.”
BB4CK is also about building community capacity and social change. Formerly, lunches were made at BB4CK’s downtown kitchen but the organization encour-ages community groups to make and distribute lunches.

“We have tremendous support from businesses, church groups, seniors and community associations,” Koshowski says. “Seven years ago, we had three com-munity groups. Now we have more than 200.”

CALGARY MEALS ON WHEELS (CMOW) was established in 1965 to support seniors or those with mobility issues who had difficulty buy- ing and preparing food. CMOW now has school programs including Hot Soup, which delivers soup, crackers and buns on Tuesdays and Thursdays to 15 Calgary schools – more than 111,000 bowls in 2016. CMOW has partnered with the five Calgary schools receiving funding from the province to provide Hot Soup to those schools as well. Other CMOW activities include breakfast programs, participation in a pilot study being funded by the Calgary Police Service that includes in-school breakfast and lunch, and a group meal program for schools that can afford to pay a modest fee.

“We have purchasing power to help keep our costs low,” says Stephanie Ralph, fund development manager. “We also appreciate donation support from corporations and other organizations, so most of our programs are free of charge.”

Read entire article in the digital issue of City Palate.