It was my middle daughter who first set me on a journey to feeding kids in schools. She'd always been good about packing her own lunch and eating what she brought without complaint. Then, three years ago, I noticed (with alarm) that she was bringing her food home untouched. I wondered how she was making it through the day without any nutrition. She initially gave me excuses about being distracted or not having enough time, but now I know she was trying to figure out how to explain it.
Finally, after I had reached a point of being exasperated and quite worried, she admitted the classmate she sat beside at that time didn't have enough food in his lunch bag. And because of the school policy that prohibits students from sharing food (for allergy safety), she felt unable to eat her lunch beside him. She reached a point that it was so upsetting to her, she would pull out a book instead of opening her bag in front of him.
My heart sank when she first told me, but I also felt determined to help her and her classmate find a solution. Truthfully, I had been so focused on making sure my own child was eating enough at school (like so many parents do), that I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about children who don't have access to enough food.
We came up with a plan, with the help of her wonderful teacher, to create a box of school-safe snacks that would be available to all students in the class so that no one felt singled out. But it was hard for me to stop thinking about, even after my daughter told me things were better once her teacher was involved.
Shortly after that experience, I was volunteering in my cousin's classroom and noticed she had filled the shelves in the coat/backpack area with boxes of food. She told me that it made it easy for students to discreetly slip food into their pockets or bags without having to ask. She paid for the food herself, because she said it was hard to teach hungry kids.
I knew I had to do something to help and was very glad to find out my son's school ran a hot breakfast and snack program every morning. For the past two years, I've been part of a team that helps to feed students before they start their day. We aren't just feeding kids who don't have enough to eat at home. We also feed kids who are responsible for getting themselves to school and appreciate a warm meal, as well as kids who just enjoy eating breakfast with their friends. We are working hard to remove the stigma of in-school food programs and create a sense of community instead.
We know student nutrition is a vital part of a successful learning environment, but it's also an aspect of school life that's easily overlooked unless you are directly affected by it — either as a parent or an educator. At the heart of these programs are volunteers who understand the importance of feeding kids, as well as behind-the-scenes fundraising that helps to make that happen.
Toonies for Tummies is a grassroots program that partners with Canada's grocery, food and consumer industries to raise money for feeding kids. To date, over 1.1 million children have benefited from this program, and 100 per cent of the donations remain in the communities where they are donated.
It's so easy to make a huge and lasting impact on a child's life, by helping to ensure they are well-fed when they are at school. Not only does it improve their well-being physically, it also creates a sense of community and safety for every child who participates in these programs.
From February 2nd to the 22nd Longo's grocery stores will be accepting donations for the 2018 #Toonies4Tummies program. On February 3rd, Longo's will dollar match every toonie that's donated. On February 17th, Metro and Food Basics will also be running dollar match days.
You can help by saying yes when your cashier asks if you'd like to add a toonie to your grocery bill this month. You will see signage for the Toonies4Tummies program clearly displayed at participating locations. And if you and your family want to make even more of a difference, you can also make an online donation on the Toonies For Tummies website.
Once this campaign comes to a close, there is still a lot of work to be done. Perhaps your child's school offers a breakfast program that's looking for donations or volunteers. Or maybe a monthly grocery shop for your community food bank would be a great way for your whole family to get involved in making a difference.
There are so many families in your community that can benefit from your generosity. You can make a big difference with a small act. I'll always be grateful to my daughter for showing me how to take the first step.
I am honoured to be participating in the 2018 Toonies4Tummies campaign. I have been compensated for writing this post, but also passionately believe in the importance of feeding kids in schools. Thank you for taking the time to read about this wonderful campaign.