‘We can only do so much’: Alarm bells sounding in Cambridge with increase in chronic hunger among students
Lorri Detta was there.
The chief executive of Food4Kids Waterloo Region grew up food insecure and said if it weren’t for outside intervention, she might not be in the position she is in now as an advocate for children suffering from chronic hunger. This lived experience led her to lead The Organization, a non-profit organization that provides meals to children on weekends and during breaks throughout the school year.
While the Food4Kids program is already offered in 52 per cent of primary schools in the region – aimed at youngsters aged 1 to 14 – alarm bells are now ringing in Cambridge, said Detta.
The organization provides meals for 249 children in 20 of the city’s 38 elementary schools. Secondary schools are also starting to get in touch.
The program has more than doubled at Cambridge since September 2022, Detta said.
“Cambridge seems really in need,” Detta said, adding that since they’re only five on staff, Food4Kids wasn’t really able to delve in and find a reason.
“We try to work with school board leaders because schools are usually the people who identify children. We’re just trying to learn more about what’s really needed out there because so many kids are starving on the weekends and during recess when they’re not in school.”
To emphasize the need in the region, Food4Kids started six years ago with 17 children. Now they are with more than 1,000 children in the three cities and towns.
Detta said she visited a school in Cambridge wearing her Food4Kids shirt and was approached by children asking for help as there was $14 left for food after their mother paid the rent.
However, it is usually the teachers who see the problem and ‘discreetly’ approach parents to participate in the programme. Food is packed in individual bags for each meal and snacks are placed in children’s backpacks when other students are not around or picked up at the office after school.
Takeaway is what makes Food4Kids unique. Once a Nutrition for Learning volunteer, Detta has seen children hoard strings of cheese, Melba toast and tubes of yogurt. While it’s good for snacking, she said, it’s not a meal.
“We supply nutritious groceries, fruits, vegetables, proteins, cereals, milk and bread. We’ll do that,” she said.
Of course, trying to fight poverty as a nonprofit can sometimes feel like fighting a house fire with a garden hose.
“We need help from city businesses and local citizens to help children grow up healthy – mentally, physically and socially. It’s just so important to have that foundation,” Detta said, adding that Food4Kids had applied for a grant from the city budget.
However, she stressed the need for more awareness-raising.
“Parents don’t know that in the classrooms there are children sitting next to their children who are starving,” Detta said. “It’s not an overseas problem. It’s right here in the region.”
Food4Kids isn’t the only organization in need of help, with Nutrition for Learning launching new fundraisers.
Through January 6, 2023, Five Dollar Fridays is encouraging people to make a one-time or monthly donation of $5 to meet an expected increase in the cost of food for the program by more than 50 percent due to increased demand among students fight food prices. Trends also show a 20 percent increase in overall demand.
Nutrition for Learning offers pre-bell breakfast snacks, beyond the bell snacks for after-school activities, and a summer school nutrition program.
“Food instability is on the rise and is disproportionately affecting our youth and their ability to thrive in educational settings,” said Erin Moraghan, the organization’s interim executive director and director of philanthropy, in a press release.
“Nutrition for Learning is, and always has been, focused on bridging the gap.”
Learn more at www.nutritionforlearning.ca and https://food4kidswr.ca/giving4kids.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Food4Kids contacted the Times and said more funding is needed to support their program after a rapid increase in student demand, particularly in Cambridge.