New Brunswick

Fredericton couple donate entire kitchen to student hunger program

When Sandy Kitchen-Brewer decided to join her daughter volunteering at a community kitchen to help make lunches for students going hungry, she had no idea so much need existed.

'You know you can't learn on an empty tummy'

Student volunteers pack 344 lunches every school day for the School Lunch Bag Program. The lunches are delivered to 15 Fredericton schools. (Shaun Waters/CBC)

When Sandy Kitchen-Brewer decided to join her daughter volunteering at a community kitchen to help make lunches for students going hungry, she had no idea so much need existed.

More than 420 sandwiches later it hit her. 

She saw that was just one morning's work in Fredericton's community kitchen. It included bagging sandwiches, fruit and granola bars for delivery to schools in the city. 

Sandy Kitchen-Brewer (left) volunteers with students Hanna Lanteigne (middle) and Emma Connors (right) in the new building she and her husband, Earl donated to the Student Hunger Project. (Shaun Waters/CBC)
That night she convinced her husband, Earl to come along the next time. The following week he showed up to pack lunches and he was just as surprised by the extent of need among local students.  

That's when Sandy says the couple decided it was time to do more than lend a hand. She and her husband decided to make a donation of a portable with kitchen equipment to the program. 

"We just became very passionate about it because it's so basic and grassroots, just the basic need of a child to be fed and go to school," Kitchen-Brewer said. 

"You know you can't learn on an empty tummy, you just can't. And I think if you talk about leveling the playing fields for students going to school, this is one of the basic ways to do it."

Big dreams

It's been just over a year since that moment and in that time the Brewers have been meeting with management at Fredericton's Community Kitchen and with the staff running the Feed the Lions program at Leo Hayes High School.

"Really, we just wanted to help and find out exactly what they needed, what was important to them, what they needed to continue, and they said they needed space," Kitchen-Brewer said. "So we brainstormed about it and came up with this building concept. It took about a year to get everything done, and here we are."

Earl Brewer and Sandy Kitchen-Brewer donated this portable to the Student Hunger Project at Leo Hayes High School. (Shaun Waters/CBC)
On Saturday the couple plan to be among the guests for the grand opening of the Student Hunger Project building on the grounds of Leo Hayes High School. 

The building and its equipment are the couple's gift to the School Lunch Bag Program. 

It has been outfitted with a full walk-in cooler, professional ovens and steamers, and tables for all the prep work that goes into making the lunches. The kitchen space was designed with the help of an executive chef from a local hotel. 

Feeding classmates

On Thursday morning, Kitchen-Brewer was standing among the student volunteers from Grades 9 to 12 assembling egg salad sandwiches and bagging the lunches to store in the cooler to be delivered to 15 schools the next day. 

Student volunteers help make egg sandwiches to go into the 344 lunches they pack each day for the School Lunch Bag Program. (Shaun Waters/CBC)
The volunteers make 344 lunches a day and each lunch includes a sandwich, a granola bar, an apple or orange and milk.

Kitchen-Brewer said she and her husband do not want any focus on themselves or what they're doing for the program. 

They said the real story is the effort that students are putting into the program and helping each other, not the new building. 

"It's a building," Kitchen-Brewer said. "But all of these volunteers are the heart of the whole place and you know it's so great to be here with all of these kids, the students and staff and parents."

She added she's impressed it's the students volunteering to help other students.

"They're so compassionate and I don't remember actually witnessing that when I was growing up. They really want to help, so that was the most important thing for us."