Food4Kids to start feeding hungry kids on weekends after March Break

Food4Kids will launch its weekend and holiday healthy food program in Waterloo-Wellington this month, just after kids return from March Break.
Eight percent of households with children in Waterloo region are food insecure, according to Region of Waterloo Public Health. (CBC)

Food4Kids Waterloo Wellington will launch its weekend and holiday healthy food program in the region this month, just after kids return from March Break. 

There are already existing programs to help feed low-income and disadvantaged children at schools during the week, but Food4Kids will provide food for kids to take home on weekends and holidays. 

Waterloo region ranks as the sixth most food-insecure region in Ontario at three per cent of households and about 61,000 people, according to Region of Waterloo Public Health.

That means about eight percent of households with children are food insecure, a number Food4Kids is dedicated to reducing.

"Food4Kids Waterloo-Wellington is a program which feeds children who are severely food insecure on weekends and during the summer holidays," says executive director Kelly-Sue Oberle-Labus, formerly the executive director at Nutrition for Learning for eight years.

The initiative has just come out of a pilot program and will be ready to serve four area schools starting after March Break. A Hamilton chapter opened in five years ago and serves about 1,500 children; chapters in Niagara and Brant are slated to open soon.

Filling nutrition gaps

Oberle-Labus said the schools approach parents about receiving food from the Food4Kids program, and the food is then discreetly delivered to the child at the school.
Food 4 Kids hopes to help 120 children this school year, but the costs are considerable: about $10 per child per weekend. (Liz Kloepper)

"We have some large families taking advantage of the program," Oberle-Labus says. In those cases, the food is delivered to the homes or parents pick it up, if they are able.

Each week, 14 to 16 items go home with children under the age of 14. If there multiple kids in the family, each child gets their own package. "This takes a burden off the parents, and they can eat a little healthier too," says Oberle-Labus.

Her experience with Nutrition for Learning has taught her there are gaps in kids' nutrition despite several organizations who work to provide food to those in need, said Oberle-Labus. "I had seen this with my own eyes with Nutrition for Learning. Every time I got up to talk someone would ask: 'Who's feeding the kids on the weekends?'"

Focus on severe food insecurity

Household food insecurity is classified as either marginal, moderate or severe, according to the Food Insecurity Policy Group at the University of Toronto. Food4Kids focuses on severe cases, where children have reduced food intake and may go a day without food.

"These are kids going home to empty cupboards and empty refrigerators. They really need help," says Oberle-Labus.

The organization hopes to help 120 children this school year, and to double that number each year. The costs are considerable: about $10 per child per weekend.

They don't have the funding to deliver the program through the summer, said Oberle-Labus, but it is part of their strategic plan for summer 2018.

Volunteers and funds needed 

Food4Kids is entirely volunteer-driven at this point, said Oberle-Labus, including a board of directors and 15 volunteers who pack the food items into individual bags on Thursday afternoons and drive bins of food to the schools on Friday mornings.

The group is supported financially by The Grocery Foundation, can get distributor prices through Ontario Student Nutrition Services and is working to become an agency of the Waterloo Region Food Bank, but all other funds come from community donations. 

As they grow towards serving more children, more volunteers will be necessary but fundraising and donations are the primary concern for Food4Kids.

"It's $10 per child for each weekend," Oberle-Labus says. "That $10 goes a long way for these kids." 

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.