Summer food insecurity sparks massive community response for kids

By Joli Scheidler-Benns

The anxiety some students were feeling about not having enough to eat during the summer months, without school lunch programs, has resulted in an unprecedented community response to combat the worry of hungry children.

Just over four months ago, after hearing this news from a colleague, Aisha Malik, a public health dietitian for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRDHU) took action.

Aisha Malik, HKPRDHU.

Malik, who also serves as the chair of Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition’s Food Security Working Group says in February she made it a “standing agenda item for discussion at our Food Security Working Group and we decided to develop a plan of action to address this issue.”

Others quickly joined forces and a $5,000 donation from United Way kick started what soon became the summer lunch pilot program in May. Several organizations had been meeting regularly to plan the original nine-week, nutritious, summer-outreach lunch program on Wednesdays and Fridays with pick up sights at three local schools.

“I created a menu with a healthy main meal, a serving of yogurt or cheese, fruit/vegetable and a healthy baked treat,” Malik says. The next step was to ask for additional community support and the response was enormous.

By early June, the idea of feeding hungry children during the summer break had expanded. Penny Barton Dyke, executive director of United Way City of Kawartha Lakes, says “we wanted to offer more than lunch” and “the exciting piece is that agencies are listening and working together.”

Dyke says that the “conversation developed” and the result was the unprecedented creation of two summer pilot programs which will play out in the coming weeks. One is the Summer Outreach Lunch Program at Queen Victoria Public School and St. Mary Catholic Elementary School and the King Albert Community Hub which will take place at King Albert Public School July 23-August 14.

The idea of a community hub is that it offers services not only for hungry children but for all family members. For families, this means one trip to one location with the ability of each member to attend a class, learn a skill, and take part in fun activities. Childcare for younger children is also an option. This type of model has worked in large urban centres and offers several programs and services in one location.

Dyke says, this is “not just for King Albert, it’s for the whole community” and any who want to come are welcome. “This is a chance for neighbors to get together and it keeps people connected over the summer.”

The timing for the three-week, community hub program made sense, as Trillium Lakelands District School Board has offered a summer learning program at King Albert for the past five years through the Summer Learning Program and EarlyON’s ‘Ready for Kindergarten’ program. Dean Burke, Principal at King Albert, says “if we can enhance and expand what already exists, then it’s an added bonus.”

“We have well-known demographic needs and we kept asking ‘how do we get to those neighbourhoods?’” says Burke. He adds that he is “so thankful for all the community partners” who stepped forward to help potentially hungry children.

The King Albert Hub, currently consisting of 13 agencies, plus support from the local churches, from across Kawartha Lakes, will offer several workshops include SAIL (Supportive Approaches through Innovative Learning) (City of Kawartha Lakes); Personality Dimensions and FEAR (VCCS Employment Services); Job Readiness and Smart Serve Certification (JobQuest); Safe Food Handlers Certification (HKPR); Cooking with Tweens (John Howard Society); and Financial Literacy and Budgeting (JobQuest).

“Each partner is bringing programming, some are certified courses at a minimal cost or free to help pilot this approach of having all services under one roof,” says Dyke.

Anyone interested in more information and a complete schedule of all the programs at the King Albert Hub should contact United Way at (705) 878-5081 or by email at . Financial donations are also being requested.

Kawartha Lakes Food Source, the Salvation Army, the health unit, and Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition are now focused on the nine-week summer “brown-bag lunch program” at Queen Victoria and St. Mary Catholic Elementary on Wednesdays and Fridays, funded by the United Way, business donations, and community donations.

Heather Kirby, general manager of Kawartha Lakes Food Source, says these are now “two initiatives growing out of a need” and this initial agenda item began to “take on a life of its own.”

Kirby notes that they have been fighting food insecurity for 15 years now. She wishes there wasn’t such a demand for food bank services in the area, so instead she wants to “celebrate community support for the past 15 years.” On June 19, Food Source was the recipient of ‘100 Women Who Care Award.’

These agencies have also teamed up to provide training to much needed and valued volunteers. Those who wish to volunteer must be registered with the Kawartha Lakes Food Source or the Salvation Army. Kirby notes that Kawartha Lakes Food Source will require a police check, but they will issue a letter so the cost will be covered.

For more information please contact Janet Rodin, the community ministries coordinator for the Salvation Army at 705-878-5331 ext. 2 or 

Alternatively, contact Michelle Romanuk, volunteer coordinator for the Kawartha Lakes Food Source at 705-324-0707 or .

The expansion of these two pilot programs in such a short time to help hungry children demonstrates the commitment of the City of Kawartha Lakes’ community agencies, members, and the public. From those that worked with large teams to organize programming to those that gave a food donation, the desire for a more caring community is evident. It started with the worries of children and ended with possible solutions that will be tested over the summer.

Malik, warns “this is not a sustainable solution to address food insecurity, but until efficient, income-based solutions such as Basic Income for all, a living wage, increases to the social assistance rate, as well as affordable housing  are in place, as a community we have a responsibility to develop solutions that fill the gap and help those who don’t have enough.”

Until then, “we are and we will continue our efforts to promote and advocate to all levels of government for income-based solutions to address food insecurity.”

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