According to End Poverty Edmonton, 40,000 children live in poverty. To put that number into perspective, imagine Rogers Place filled to capacity with children. Now times that image by two and a half. The number is staggering. Since food insecurity is a symptom of poverty, we know that many of those children don’t get the sustenance they need. How can a child be expected to focus in school or on homework when they’re hungry? How do their brains grow and develop without proper nutrition?
While mentoring and after school programs are an important part of the long term strategy to end poverty, we know that something needs to be done to satiate the hunger these kids feel in the short term. That’s why BGCBigs is proud to provide healthy snacks and hot meals at each of our after school program locations across the city. We operate 9 Club sites and 5 school sites that run five days a week and serve over 3,000 individual children each year. That’s a lot of meals to serve; fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone.
Many members of our community have stepped up to help us meet the needs of our kid’s growing bodies and minds: President’s Choice Children’s Charity, the Butler Family Foundation, Alberta Health Services, Family & Community Services Edmonton, the Edmonton Community Foundation, River City Runners, and sponsors and attendees at the annual BGCBigs Lobster Lover Feast. We are so grateful for their support.
“When families and children are well fed, they are less vulnerable to physical and mental health stresses,” says Danisha Bhaloo, BGCBigs manager of fund development. “This is such an important part of our programming and we couldn’t do it without the support of our community. Thanks to amazing partnerships with WeCan, the Italian Centre Shops, and the Food Bank we make sure that each meal is purchased for less than one dollar, meaning we can do more for less.”
Not only does each kid get a health snack right after school and a hot meal later in the evening, they also participate in the kitchen. Our staff and volunteer educate kids on what it means to make a healthy meal and they put those skills into action by helping with meal preparation and clean up. Many of our sites also have a “kitchen club” where kids get to try out new recipes, make a shopping list, and learn the components of a balanced meal.
“We often have parents join us for dinner time,” says Ian Amundson, McCauley Club Coordinator. “And we always make sure to pack up any leftovers and send them home with the kids.
Even though our programs provide meals five days a week for kids (and sometimes their parents), there’s more that needs to be done. Sasha*, one of our Club volunteers, shared the following story with us:
“One day, I noticed a little boy taking food from the kitchen. Nothing big, just a granola bar, an apple, and a juice box. I started to pay more attention to him and sure enough every day that week he left the Club with a pocketful. I didn’t want him to think he was in trouble but felt like I needed to find out what was going on. On Friday, I took him aside and asked if he got enough to eat at lunch time. His eyes got really big and he said ‘my little brother’s only 4 so he can’t come to Club yet but he needs to eat too.’”
Thankfully, our Club staff were able to connect the boy’s family to the Food Bank. Now that little boy no longer needs to sneak food home to his brother.
Its stories like this that make us proud to also be a part of Project Backpack, an initiative of Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada. Over the next school year, we’ll be able to provide weekly food packages to 25 kids whose families need extra support over the weekend.
Alberta is in a unique economic environment and we know that now more than ever our families are facing increased difficulty finding employment that can meet their most basic needs. In many cases, the nourishment provided through our programs is the only food a child eats.
“If we weren’t able to make sure these kids are fed, our programming would suffer,” Ian explains. “Anytime kids are acting out our first question is always ‘did you eat lunch?’. Too often that answer is no. When kids are hungry, they can’t focus on anything else. That’s why I’m really glad we’re going to be able to identify some of the families that need a little extra help with lunches during the school day and meals on the weekend. It will make a huge difference for these kids.”
*not her real name.