During March Break this past year I spent most of a day working at The Stop Community Food Centre in some of their emergency food programs. Mid-day, I helped serve lunch at the drop-in to some 80 people who came for the yummy Irish stew and salad with big hunks of donated artisanal bread. Later, I spent a few hours with the hard-working staff and volunteers in the busy food bank.
Aside from the respect, dignity and amazing efficiency of the people working there, the thing that really blew me away was the number of kids in the centre.
I suppose it’s not surprising, considering the fact that school was out. And yet, the challenge so many low-income families in this city and country face to feed their children—especially when school feeding programs aren’t operating—really hit home for me.
Now, of course, it’s not just a week that kids are home with their families, it’s the two months of summer that they must go without school breakfasts and lunch programs (such as they are in this country without a national nutrition program for kids!).
In NYC, there’s a summer meals program in which free lunches are available to children at various sites such as schools, parks, pools, community centres and libraries. In Madison County, Georgia, the state Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering free lunches over the summer.
Here in Toronto, there is a dearth of options for low-income families in the summer. And food banks are hardly an ideal solution (not to mention food donations traditionally drop off come June and July)—according to Daily Bread, 15% of children who use food banks still go hungry once a week.
So what’s the answer? Well, a good start in Canada, at least, would be a universal school feeding program that extends into the summer for those who need it. With all the talk about childhood obesity, diet-related illnesses and other fears for the health and welfare of our kids, offering young people a healthy meal once a day—year-round— could be an incredible place to begin.