Many Ontario school-aged children benefit from the Ontario government-supported Student Nutrition Program that provides access to healthy snacks each day but what happens to the kids who truly rely on this weekday benefit when they go home for the weekend? It’s a question that Food4Kids WR Founder, Kelly Sue Oberle, took into her own hands.
Teachers would see that on Monday morning kids were coming in very hungry because they were not getting what they needed over the weekends. It’s an invisible problem and doesn’t matter where a school is located geographically. “Even in prestigious neighbourhoods, there are kids that need help,” says volunteer Geraldine Mahood, a local real estate agent with ReMax TwinCity Realty.
Food4Kids WR started feeding kids in need in 2016 as a solution for children who needed extra support when they are NOT in school - every weekend and all school breaks. “School staff and teachers help identify the children who need help, and also facilitate the stigma-free delivery of the food bags every Friday,” says Program Coordinator, Cali Dubios. “Our volunteers pack the bags full of nutritional food for the kids to take home.”
A carefully planned kid-friendly menu sees that enough food is provided for six healthy meals and snacks, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Separate bags are also packed to meet dietary restrictions including allergies and those based on religion or ethnic background. “We give them what they need, not just what we have,” added Jennifer Birnstihl, Marketing Coordinator.
Currently, there are 100 kids on a waitlist for the Food4Kids program.
As of the 2021/2022 school year, Food4Kids Waterloo Region is feeding 888 kids each weekend but doesn’t have the resources or money to expand to provide healthy meals to the 100 kids on the waitlist.
Food4Kids relies 100% on donations from the community to meet their needs and currently they’ve been receiving more names than what they can supply. With a hope to spread awareness about the charity, for a month, Mahood and her team at TwinCity Realty plan on putting riders on the top of their yard signs which will say ‘$1000 from the sale of this house is going to Food4Kids WR.’
“There are kids who need it, kids who can’t or won’t ask.”
The process for successfully making this new initiative work took the hard work and kindness of over 200 local volunteers. “It's really just a positive thing,” says Mahood, “Those boxes we filled, it doesn't just stop there. There are volunteer drivers who pick them up and bring them to the schools. There’s a lot of co-ordinating and people giving time and hours and no one sees it until you become a part of it. We are each just one little important cog of this amazing wheel.”
It’s heartwarming for the volunteers of Food4Kids WR to know the story of a child and to know that no one is going to be hungry in that house over the weekend. “Everybody comes from somewhere and sometimes it's a struggle,” says Mahood, “We have to be their voices and their advocates. We have to speak up for them.”
Anyone willing to volunteer or donate (Just $35 feeds one child) can find out more information on the Food4Kids Waterloo Region website.