A lunch program for low-income students started by a teacher at Leo Hayes High School about two years ago is now feeding more than 400 students in Fredericton on a daily basis with help from five other schools and other volunteers.
Student volunteers make bagged lunches at the Fredericton Community Kitchen for all 14 schools in the region and then deliver them.
"Basically we just hand out lunches out of a room. It's no questions asked," said student Matthew Hynes, one of 50 students who help run the Student Hunger Project for Leo Hayes School.
"We don't want to create a stigma around it, we just want to make it easy and accessible," said Hynes, who was sporting one of the program's T-shirts with the message, "Love the way you care," on the back.
Fellow student Marlyne Vanderlee described the program as a "judge-free zone."
"We don't judge when they come. We just, 'Here you go. Have a lunch. Have a great day,'" she said.
Some students only need the free lunches a few times a month to get them through "rough times" when "money's run out," said Vanderlee. Some of the student volunteers need the lunches themselves.
Kimberley Lightfoot came up with the idea in 2013 when one of her chemistry students announced in class it was a "wonderful day."
"I asked him why exactly it was such a wonderful day, and he described having a family breakfast. And I was still waiting for a reason, and it was revealed that that was not normal in his house, that there normally was no food," she said.
Then Lightfoot started hearing more stories about hungry students from other school staff.
'I remember that moment of just this profound thought that, 'This has to stop.' - Kimberley Lightfoot, program founder
"I remember that moment of just this profound thought that, 'This has to stop,'" said Lightfoot. "There just shouldn't be hungry students. Period."
She says she didn't know "anything about making food, and raising funds," but she decided to try to do something to help and called the Community Kitchen.
Today, the program has grown from 60 lunches once a week to about 420 five days a week, plus breakfast supplements and snacks, such as cheese, fruit and vegetables.
It also offers a "backpack" program, where students can get non-perishable food to take home after school or on weekends. About 90 backpacks are handed out every week, thanks to donations from grocery stores and local businesses.
Bart Myers, president of the Community Kitchen and chairman of the student hunger committee, says it costs about $80,000 per school year to run the program for elementary to high school students, but he believes it's sustainable.
"We're at a point where we've got partners who are coming in on a long-term basis, saying, 'Pencil us in for your budget for every year,' that we believe this is a service that we can provide as long as the need is there," said Myers.
The participating schools also help out with fundraising. On Thursday, Leo Hayes High School presented the Community Kitchen with a cheque for $20,000, the latest of its fundraising efforts.