Edmonton

Partnership between Edmonton high school and non-profit tackles food security during pandemic

Fresh Routes and the Boyle Street Education Centre are working together to ensure the centre's students have weekly access to affordable fresh food through a mobile grocery store.

The partnership provides affordable access to fresh food for students

A collection of food Fresh Routes offers to people who face barriers to accessing fresh food. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, staff at the Boyle Street Education Centre were worried about what it could mean for food security and their students.

Now, a partnership between the centre and a local non-profit this year has created a weekly stop where students can regularly buy affordable fresh food.

Food security has long been an issue the centre focuses on with the youth they support. The central Edmonton high school, primarily for students who face social or economic barriers, provides two meals per day for students. When they were forced to shut down in the spring due to the pandemic, their students were left without this usual secure source of food.

Scott Meunier, principal at the Boyle Street Education Centre, said that much of society was worried about food security when the pandemic began, and it was naturally also a concerning issue for his school's students, and one they knew they'd have to do something to address.

"We wanted to make sure the steps we took were to be in line with the food security that our program has always been able to allow by cooking and preparing and serving excellent meals," Meunier said. 

"The food security question was one that society had and one that we knew that we would have a good answer to."

The Boyle Street Education Centre is working with Fresh Routes to provide accessible, affordable fresh food to its students. (Jamie McCannell/CBC)

This year, the school has worked with Fresh Routes to address food security. Fresh Routes is a not-for-profit in Calgary and Edmonton which runs a mobile grocery store that makes stops around the city providing affordable fresh food to communities who face barriers, like physical or financial limitations, to accessing these products. 

In the spring when the school was closed, the two groups worked together to deliver boxes of fresh food each week to the homes of students who needed that support. Now that schools are open again, students can access the food directly on-site every Friday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

"They wanted to transition away from delivering to the students and have students have access to fresh food directly on site," said Morgan Allen, city manager with Fresh Routes in Edmonton. "With the mobile grocery store stop we operate at the same time, on the same day, every week."

Fresh Routes also works with various community leagues, recreation centres and affordable housing units. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, they adapted their service to deliver fresh food to people who couldn't access food as they normally did because of the pandemic. This included people who are immunocompromised and especially at risk of contracting COVID-19, or people who simply didn't feel safe using public transit during the pandemic.

"In the space that we work, we are really concerned with folks who can't get to a grocery store," Allen said 

"It's been really interesting seeing where those barriers come up and recognizing how our food system is not always shaped in the most accessible ways for folks."

The partnership also allows students to volunteer at the store, learn about healthy foods and how to prepare them, and learn about budgeting and resource management.

The response from students to all of this has been positive, Meunier said. Students receive vouchers from the school to be able to spend at Fresh Routes' store, and Meunier said it's led to good conversations with kids about the value of accessible healthy food.

Meunier said he's proud of how the partnership between the two organizations has evolved, and expects it to continue when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

"There's a lot of different angles from an educational place that make this a really great service to continue," Meunier said. "Also the longevity of this pandemic is not known. So we have no near-term belief that we should stop doing this anyway." 

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