I want to start this post today by saying I feel like this might be one of the most important posts I have ever written. I love to write about food and fashion and pretty things, but at the end of the day, the whole goal of this blog is to help make a difference. And I know that I’ve done that in varying ways through this platform, but when this campaign was presented to me, my heart did a backflip because this is something so tangible that not only I can help change, but all of you can as well!
Child hunger is not something we think about in Canada. When we think of hunger and poverty, we typically picture the World Vision ads that we’ve seen time and time again of the kids in an African village with no shoes or shirts and distended bellies, but it’s actually happening right here, in our own neighborhoods. And many of us are completely unaware.
Did you know that specifically in Ontario, ONE in every SIX child goes to school hungry? Like really take a moment to wrap your head around that statistic. My kids have about 30 classmates in each of their classes and so according to that stat, it means that FIVE of their peers have not had breakfast when they get to school (and not because they simply didn’t want to).
When I really break that down and start thinking of my two oldest children going to school HUNGRY because I couldn’t provide a meal for them…that just breaks my heart. Growing up, we NEVER lacked anything, especially when it came to food. My mom always had the pantry stoked full for not only us, but for anyone that would drop by throughout the week or friends who would come over to play after school. Never ever in my life have I gone without food because I simply couldn’t afford it. Ever. And now as a mom, with school-aged kids of my own, I know how important food is and I just have such a hard time truly grasping that my kids are sitting next to friends who are potentially hungry.
Interestingly enough, when my daughter began Junior Kindergarten last year, the school had a snack program every Tuesday and Thursday. I always figured it was just an extra ‘nice’ thing that the school did with their resources. And on those days, I would send one less snack…never stopping to realize that this was done because there were kids who actually had NO food to bring with them.
Here are a few quick facts about the child hunger situation here in Canada:
- Canada is the only G8 country without a national school-based feeding program
- Over 4 million Canadians, including 1.15 children, experience some level of food insecurity
- 4.1% food inflation puts households at greater risk of food insecurity especially when 1 in 8 households (1 in 6 children) in Canada already compromise the quantity or quality of their food to feed their family!
These stats are absolutely mind boggling, again, as someone who has never had to worry about where my next meal will come from. And while I’ve been living in my comfortable suburban home, thinking that it was just the homeless who struggled to find food, it could really be my neighbor whose family is going hungry.
Well, thankfully, The Grocery Foundation is here to help us do something about it! To date, they have raised in excess of $85 million which has gone toward over 250 organizations across the province meeting a number of health and wellness needs, including providing nutritious breakfast and snacks for school-aged students.
This year, along with your help, they hope to raise over $600,000 between February 4th-18th. By giving just one toonie at the checkout at many grocery retailers, you can ensure that a child doesn’t go to school hungry (for a full list of retailers and other sponsors, click here).
An awesome new incentive that The Grocery Foundation is doing this year is the Agents of Change Summit, taking place on Monday, February 8th, 2016, in Toronto. This Summit will see 11 youth ambassadors come together to explore and share their views on how to collectively engage youth in advocating for and promoting the benefits of school-based nutrition programs.
I had the privilege to interview one of these ambassadors, Sara Ferreira from a local Toronto high school and ask her about her involvement with this program and how she is helping raise awareness amongst her peers. (She is pictured here with Shannon from Shasher’s Life at the Night to Nurture Gala).
Q1: What are your thoughts about student nutrition and its impact?
A1: I have a strong passion for these programs to help students learn about nutrition and how it impacts/affects them. For example, a candy bar will give a kid energy for half an hour but an apple with peanut butter would give a kid energy for almost half a school day. A kid that just eats a chocolate bar will walk around like zombie for the rest of a day but a kid that eats things like an apple with peanut butter will do more than focus and participate in a class. This also increases their marks in a class room but also takes it beyond the class to the community.
Q2: How are you trying to engage other students on the topic of student nutrition?
A2: We are trying to engage students on the topic of student nutrition in a variety of methods, including: bringing in people and food from our community to help teach/make different/cultural dishes, keeping our program completely free, bringing people from outside the community in such as our neighborhood representative, or even a council member, to name a few.
Q3: What do you think about the fact that 1 in 6 children go to school hungry in Ontario? Have you witnessed this with your own eyes, in your school/classroom?
A3: I think it’s a bad thing with Canada being one of the better off country’s (even with our debt). We have enough resources to evenly spread to every person in our country to provide some sort of stable life.
I’ve met a few people that come to school with nothing to eat. For example, I know a boy that even when he didn’t have dinner the night before, would give his lunch to one of his two younger sisters so that they could eat. When I first met him, he would only eat breakfast from our breakfast program and survive on that till the next morning.
I know people that eat very little because they don’t have a lot at home and need to make it last. So breakfast programs help make their food last a little longer.
Q4: Why is it important that we talk about this and engage our youth in this conversation?
A4: It’s important for youth to get involved because its programs like this that help teach things like fueling your body properly, the importance of breakfast, skills needed, and so much more. Kid’s eat what is available and affordable to them. As a teenager myself, I can honestly say that if a store is selling pizza, french fries, or some other type of unhealthy meal and it is more accessible to me than a health food/grocery store, it’s more likely that I am going to go for the fast food.
What programs are trying to teach youth is the difference between fueling your body and hurting it. Sugar can be harmful to anyones body. By eliminating these things and replacing them with nutritious foods, it will make a dramatic change in a person.
Q5: What do you hope to see come from this campaign initiative?
A5: I want people to understand the importance of these programs. I want them to understand that not every kid has a choice to eat when and what they want. It’s programs like this that make a difference to people who can’t afford to eat.
On top of all that, its programs like this that teach kids/teens things that they wouldn’t really learn currently like quantity and quality of things, simple and easy meals, teamwork skills, and so much more. These programs don’t just feed the hungry, they do so much more for the people willing to put in the time to learn, do, and master everything that these programs offer. That’s what I want to get across. It’s not only the hungry being fed but also a community coming together, a family being built, friends meeting each other, and differences being made in everyone’s lives no matter how big or small they are.
As I said at the very beginning of this post, I’m SO excited and truly honored to team up with The Grocery Foundation and help bring awareness to the child hunger issues right here at home and advocating for ways that we can ALL help.
I would urge you to help make a difference between Feb. 4th -18th this year. For the same cost as a cup of coffee, you can ensure that a child has a good, nutritious breakfast and doesn’t go hungry. With almost 400 retailers across Ontario participating, as well as being able to donate online, there really is no reason that we all can’t join together and truly be part of ending child hunger here in Canada.
Love & Blessings,
Note: I am part of the #Toonies4Tummies Influencer program and have received monetary compensation to help bring awareness. However, my views and passion are 100% my own and it’s been an honor to be part of such a life changing campaign!