Dinner program ensures healthy, affordable meals at Boys and Girls Club

By Roderick Benns

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Kids enjoying their dinner at the Boys and Girls Club in Lindsay. Photo: Roderick Benns.

Thursday is a hectic day of the week for Candice Toms, a Lindsay mother of two. That’s why, like so many other parents, she relies on the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kawartha Lakes’ dinner program to give her a hand.

For only $5 she knows that her daughter, Amelia, will get a fantastic, nutritious dinner that night. Toms works 9 am to 5 pm each day at her business, Everyday Specialties Inc., a promotional product manufacturer in Lindsay. But Amelia has swimming on Thursday nights, so there’s no time to be cooking dinner and then have time to make that swim practice.

“They can’t eat at McDonald’s for that price,” she tells the Advocate. “And at the club it’s a healthy dinner – it’s just fantastic.”

Amelia has been with the club since she was 18 months old. Her son, Cody, is nearly 13 and has been there since he was two and a half.

“We joke that he’s been there longer than many of the staff,” says Toms.

While Toms can make that payment for her daughter to eat well on Thursdays, still about half the others involved with the program can’t. But thanks to donors in the community and strategic partnerships the Boys and Girls Club has a full subsidy program in place so that no one is turned away.

Candice Toms with Amelia and Cody.

The dinner program is for ages 5-12. About 40 different children participate in the dinner program and the club averages around 15 kids each night.

Amy Terrill is the new executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. She knows what parents are up against when it comes to the ticking clock.

“As a parent of two girls, I remember those busy weeknights when there was barely enough time to get a healthy dinner on the table, help the kids with homework and get organized for the next day,” she says.

Terrill calls it a “really challenging time (of life) for families.”

“The fact that our Club is able to offer such affordable options for parents in such a flexible way is a wonderful service to the community.”

Arielle Fegan also has two children who are familiar with the Boys and Girls club, with her six-year-old daughter Leigha and eight-year-old son, Edward, both making use of the dinner program.

Leigha has been using the program since September, usually four days a week, according to Fegan.

Fegan also pays the full amount for meals but considers it a bargain, given their busy lives.

“The program works great for our schedule, as I work late and getting them home to finish homework and get ready for the next day is hectic enough,” she says.

Mark Reid of Valu-Mart in Lindsay recently presented a cheque for over $1,000 to the Club to support its food program.

“It really helps relieve the stress from an already busy school night. I know what my children are being fed and for the most part they enjoy each meal,” Fegan says.

Toms says it’s the Boys and Girls Club in general that has kept them going back month after month after all these years, including the whole spectrum of programs offered.

“It’s fantastic place. It keeps kids out of trouble. They pick the kids right up from school and it gives them something fun to do.”

She notes they’re not playing video games the whole time they’re there but actually participating in sports and doing other active things.

“It makes life easier for someone working full-time,” Toms adds.

Terrill says the flexibility of the club is a major advantage for parents.

“There is no need to make a commitment days or weeks in advance. Families simply have to let us know the day before that their child needs dinner,” she says.

The club executive director says in today’s fast-paced world, with circumstances changing almost daily for people, this is a big benefit.

“In addition to that there is a peace of mind we offer to families that their children are in good hands with caring adults — our leaders know the children by name, and the children know our leaders by name too.”

Terrill says even the bus drivers know each child and whether they’re supposed to be on the bus that day.

The meals and snacks they receive meet the Canada Food Guide and menus are posted in advance which can help parents and picky eaters.

“Children are in safe hands in a place that was built and designed just for them. I think that is a true gift to families in our community.”

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