By LORRI DETTA
This summer has been tremendously inspiring and filled with collectively hard
work at Food4Kids Waterloo Region.
Donors and volunteers of all ages and backgrounds came together selflessly to
help deliver 3,400 boxes of nutritious food to at-risk children who do not have enough
food to get through the summertime or the weekends and other breaks when they are
not in school.
Many individuals, groups, organizations and businesses in our community help
support Food4Kids Waterloo Region through financial donations, and many donated
food to our summer program. Hundreds of volunteers – individuals, students, entire
families, corporate, church, service clubs and community groups – helped this summer
by sorting, packaging, packing, and delivering food to welcoming arms each week.
Despite the number of children we support with the help of our community,
Food4Kids Waterloo Region is experiencing an increase in calls from distressed
parents, worried about food to feed their children and affordable housing.
This past month, on a hot summer Saturday, we received a call from a
desperate father who had received our contact information, passed to him from a mom
of a homeless family living at the same motel. Her child is supported by Food4Kids
Waterloo Region’s summer break program and during the school year. This newly
homeless family – father, mother and seven-year-old son- were living in an apartment
until they were given the notice to leave, and like many local individuals, couples and
families, they could not find affordable housing and were soon homeless. They called
us for food for their son.
After the call for help, Food4Kids Waterloo Region staff immediately gathered
healthy food and grocery cards for the local store to get the family through this tough
Confined to a single dark, windowless room and a bathroom, this family’s new
home – a squalid strip motel, located adjacent to a high-end hotel – is no place for
children. Upon staff delivering the food, the mom sobbed, the dad shook my hand, and
the boy jumped up and down, squealing with delight at the box of food as if he received
an extravagant toy on his birthday. Their new one-room home-for-now is dingy and run
down with years of cigarette odour, stained carpet, dirty bedspreads and the aura of
decades of poverty and deprivation.
Living next door to this family in an identical hot and stuffy one-room with two
beds is a family of five recently arrived from Mexico, including three young girls, with
their mother and father. The mother and father speak limited English. The older
daughter translates, describing how the family arrived in Canada a week ago with little.
They did not have enough food, and no cell phone and were worried about heading into a
cold fall and winter.
Hearing their story, Food4Kids Waterloo Region staff left to return again with food
and grocery cards for the family and asked them to pass on our organization’s
contact information to their social worker to get in touch with Food4Kids
Waterloo Region for future support – the support they could receive just like the
other two families living in this motel.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly. There are many more stories of children
struggling with chronic hunger and severe food insecurity. About 3,000 children in this
area are victims of food insecurity. Food4Kids Waterloo Region has reached a third of
them, with the generous help and care of our community.
The personal stories above are not as heartbreaking as the ones involving
children who do not have a parent advocating on their behalf. It’s not that parents do
not want to feed their kids, they simply can’t for a variety of reasons such as physical
disabilities, mental health issues or they are part of the working poor etc. Regardless of
the reasons, it’s not the child’s fault for their family circumstances, and there is no
reason for any child to worry about where their food will come from.
We have heard many real-life scenarios from teachers and social workers who
tell us about the kids living with chronic hunger and tucking food from the snack bowl
into their pockets for later.
For example, two children were found to be malnourished. Their parents were
blinded in the Afghanistan war and couldn’t provide for their children. Social workers
were contacted for support, and they reached out to Food4Kids Waterloo Region to
provide nutritional support on weekends and breaks, as we are the only food program
that accommodates a cultural menu including Halal (or food allergies/dietary specific).
Consistent hunger, even just over weekends and extended school breaks, can
set a child back for life. Being a child from a low-income family increases their risk of
having to face a number of health, financial, and social challenges. One of these social
challenges is the risk of exploitation in the pursuit of food or becoming involved in
Without early intervention, these children might grow up to face unemployment,
mental health issues, addiction, lack of education, poverty, homelessness and/or prison.
Almost 100 percent of Canadian prison inmates experienced poverty. We see the
future results of child poverty every day currently on our street corners, encampments,
park benches, and prison systems.
Our federal government has ambitious and noble plans to help children living
with severe food insecurity with a national school food program when kids are in school.
However, there are no plans to support children who depend on school nutrition
programs the other half of the year, (40 weekends and 90 days of school breaks), when
they are not in school. That’s where Food4Kids Waterloo Region comes in. We
provide a direct impact in reducing child hunger in our community.
It takes a village to raise a child and we are part of that village. Together with
our community, we provide packages of healthy food for children ages 1 to 14 living with
chronic hunger in severely food insecure homes, on weekends and during winter,
spring, and summer breaks from school.
But Food4Kids Waterloo Region is much more than providing food – it also
delivers hope and shows kids that their community cares, lifting them up, and changing
lives. Food4Kids Waterloo Region is funded through personal and corporation
donations, grants, foundations and fundraising, and is supported by hundreds of
volunteers. It currently serves children attending 50 of the 150 schools in the Waterloo
Region. Its goal is to reach all children living with chronic hunger in our community so
they can have the nourishment they need to grow up healthy and secure.
For more information, please visit www.food4kidswr.ca.