Non-profits band together to keep children fed during uncertain summer
Boys and Girls Clubs, food banks, pick up where bagged lunch program left off to keep kids fed this summer
As the COVID-19 recovery inches along in New Brunswick, many non-profits are focused on ensuring no child falls through the cracks when it comes to accessing nutritious food during the summer.
When schools suddenly closed in March, a huge gap emerged for students and families who depend on school breakfast and lunch programs.
A bagged lunch program quickly filled the void, with volunteers preparing and delivering 700 bagged lunches to at-risk neighbourhoods in the Moncton area every day.
When that program ended in late June, local Boys and Girls Clubs and food banks have tried to pick up where the bagged lunches left off.
- School closures expose 'glaring' gaps in food security for families
- Community steps up in hopes that bagged lunch program can continue
At the Moncton Boys and Girls Club, staff and volunteers pack groceries for 40 families every week.
Ashton Beardsworth, director of outreach and program services, expects their mini food bank, which was set up when the pandemic began, will be temporary.
When staff and volunteers arrive with the deliveries, she said, families are very grateful to see a familiar face on their doorstep.
"They're really happy. They're happy about the groceries and they're also happy to see the club staff coming and stopping by."
Beardsworth explains it's about making sure families have good food, but it's also about continuing the connection when the centre isn't able to welcome as many children inside because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Summer camps guarantee healthy lunch
In a typical summer, the Moncton Boys and Girls Club would have about 150 young people at the centre every day, but this year the club's capacity has been reduced to about 50 children and teens.
In addition to activities, the camps also offer a free lunch and snacks to campers. Beardsworth said even though the club isn't able to serve as many children this summer, help is always available.
"People reach out as they need our …and we've stepped up every time we can to fill that need."
This summer the camps are offered weekly, at a cost of $25 per child, in an effort to welcome as many children as possible for at least part of the summer.
"We want to make sure that they have access to a good program and also a healthy education about food," said executive director Moncef Lakouas.
"They're fed a good lunch every single day plus snacks … just to take away that burden from the families when it comes to financial matters."
Lakouas sees a bright side to the pandemic, which has forced him and his staff to be creative in order to stay in touch with children.
He hopes that newly developed online programming, such as the Kid Food Nation Challenge, will lead to better eating habits and allow the Boys and Girls Club to reach more families.
In the Kid Food Nation Challenge, staff at the club post a video of themselves making a meal. Before they do that, they drop off the necessary groceries so children can make the same meal themselves at home.
"We have parents saying that for the the first time they're learning about food … and some of them actually are saying they want to cook on a daily basis, which is amazing."
Programs re-starting for Riverview teens
Lynda Carey, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Riverview, said while the daycare program for children between five and 12 has reopened, she has been worried about the teenagers who haven't been able to return yet because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Staff who would normally run youth programs have been shifted to help with the elementary students because group sizes had to be reduced.
"[Teens} were the ones that we found were more impacted by us being able to provide food for them. We haven't reached those kids yet but they are starting to come back."
Thanks to special funding, Carey said their teen drop-in and Raise the Grade programs are able to restart.
"I think a lot of people's eyes are being opened to the amount of need in this city," she said.
"We have children in some of our cooking programs or in our meal programs asking us if they can take food home to younger siblings. You can't help but wonder how life must be."
Pandemic spurs lasting change
Chantal Senecal, executive director of the Food Depot Alimentaire, which supplies food banks across the province, opened a big brown box labelled "After the Bell."
It's a special summer food program that provides extras to children across the province.
"It's a top-up of food for kids who normally rely on school programs," she said. "We know that there was a gap there throughout the summer."
The weekly food boxes contain nutritious snacks such as whole-grain crackers and chicken, cereal, shelf-stable milk and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Senecal, Lakous and Carey all believe the gaps in food security that have been exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic will lead to lasting changes as everyone re-evaluates the way they have always done things.
"The Greater Moncton area, coming out of this on the other end, is going to be more acutely aware of those around us who are in need," said Carey.
Senecal hopes it will also open the door to discussions about a guaranteed basic income.
After a sharp increase in demand at food banks when the pandemic began, she has seen numbers stabilize since the CERB, or Canada Emergency Response Benefit, was introduced.
"I hope it never goes away," she said of the benefit. "I think it's a huge long-term solution to poverty."
"It's something that really encourages people to start being more self-sufficient, more independent and relying a lot less on charity services."