Toronto

Some kids don't eat on weekends, Food4Kids aims to change that

A program that discreetly delivers food to kids who would otherwise go hungry on weekends is expanding in southern Ontario.

Food4Kids started 5 years ago in Halton, plans to expand across southern Ontario

Food4Kids runs with the help of more than 200 volunteers. (Food4Kids)

It started with a chance meeting in a church parking lot on a wintry Monday morning five years ago.

Lena Bassford was on her way to a business meeting about a breakfast program offered by the church.

"It was cold, it was dark. There was a 10-year-old boy standing outside," Bassford told CBC Toronto.

"He simply turned to me and said, 'I haven't had any food to eat all weekend. I'm so hungry. Can I please have something to eat?"'

The former manager of the Boys and Girls Club in Halton was all too familiar with kids not getting enough to eat. But it was that unexpected encounter with a little boy that inspired Bassford to take action.

Food4Kids bridges the gap between school breakfast and lunch programs. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Food4Kids started as a pilot project in April 2011, with just three Halton-area schools and 65 kids taking part.

Volunteers got together and packaged healthy foods — soups, whole grains, fruit and vegetables — in plain bags, then delivered them Friday mornings to principal's offices.

CBC Toronto's Shannon Martin meets the volunteers behind the program Food4Kids, which packages healthy food in plain bags and deliver them to schools. Staff tucks the bag into students' backpacks for the weekend, who would otherwise go hungry. 3:02

By the end of the day, school staff had discreetly tucked the bags into kids' backpacks — inside was enough food to last them through the weekend.

Now more than 100 schools take part, serving more than 1,400 kids. The program has expanded into Hamilton, and just this week, to Kitchener Waterloo.

Why kids go hungry

"It's not that parents don't want to feed their children, it's that they can't feed their children," said Bassford.

"These are children at the bottom two per cent of the poverty scale."

Rising housing and utilities costs, job loss, marriage break ups, and mental health issues, are some of the reasons kids can go hungry, Bassford says.

"I can't think of anything more paralyzing than your child coming to you and saying, 'I'm hungry,' and they have no food to eat."

'We turned it into a movement,' Lena Bassford says of the weekend food program. (Food4Kids)

The program relies on donations and one-time grants. The cost per backpack is $10 or $400 to feed a child for an entire school year.

Unlike many school breakfast and lunch programs, Food4Kids doesn't take a break during summer vacation

Instead of delivering a weekend's worth of food to school, volunteers in July and August deliver a week's worth directly to childrens' homes.

"It's a logistical nightmare, I will admit it, but we have the most incredible core group of volunteers," said Brassford.

'It feels good'

It's rewarding for everyone involved. John Phelan, a volunteer driver who delivers food to about eight schools, says office staff are very appreciative.

"Almost all of them say, 'Thanks for doing this!'" said Phelan. "And you go, 'Wow!' I'm just delivering. But it feels good."'

The group purchases 75 per cent of the food it distributes. The rest is donated. (Liz Kloepper)

But it's the feedback from kids that matters most.

Bassford recalls a recent conversation she had with another little boy.

"This very loud child, in a very quiet voice, said, 'I'm grateful that people care enough about me to make sure i have food to eat,'" Bassford remembers.

"It's not just the food. It's not just the health care," she said.

"It's letting these kids know in a life of chaos and sadness, there is a community out there that cares for them."

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

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