top of page
  • Writer's pictureAmanda

In Conversation With: Food4Kids Niagara

When my kids ask for a snack for the sixth time in one morning, I either roll my eyes and remind them that lunch is soon, or I cave and give them another snack. It doesn’t usually cross my mind that we are the lucky ones. We can choose whether our kids get a snack or not, and sadly, there are many families here in Niagara who do not get to make that choice.

 

Food4Kids Niagara is an organization that aims to feed children in need on weekends and over the summer when school is out and student nutrition programs are not running. For many families, without Food4Kids, their children would not have much food at all.

 

I personally know Amber Hughes as a neighbour and friend, but she is also the Executive Director of Food4Kids. I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in an interview with me so that we can bring more awareness to such a needed organization in Niagara.

 

 

Hey Amber! Thank you again for doing this with me! For anyone just hearing about Food4Kids Niagara for the first time, how would you describe the program?


Our program is simple, but impactful. We provide packages of healthy food to elementary school students with little or no access to food during the weekend and summer months. While we recognize that we cannot eliminate hunger or poverty in Niagara, we can ensure that children sustaining entire weekends without food, will be fed. Our program is another way to support families who may also rely on other ways to access food such as student nutrition programs, food banks or community fridges.

 

We reduce barriers to accessing healthy food, which impacts immediate, short and long-term developmental outcomes for children and youth. Provision of food is a key prevention strategy impacting physical health, mental health, academic success, and in breaking the cycle of poverty

 


How did you get involved with Food4Kids Niagara?


In 2017, a friend and former colleague was putting together a founding board for the Niagara chapter of Food4Kids, and she asked me if I would like to be involved. As we worked our way through the process of opening a charity, it became apparent very quickly that a full-time position would be required to ensure the organization could grow and succeed. As it so often happens, my passion won out over my practicality, and I decided to take a leap of faith and accept a six-month contract. I had six months to build some brand awareness, secure additional funding and convey the importance of our program in the community. We delivered our first food package to our pilot schools in January 2018 and I haven't looked back since.

 

 

How do you raise money for the program?


We have a multi-faceted approach to secure the resources we need to grow our agency and make a meaningful impact on the lives of the children that depend on us. We host fundraisers that generate revenue, we access grants that are offered by local and provincial funders, we encourage peer to peer events, but the bulk of our donations come from the kindness of strangers - corporations and community members that believe in our mission and trust that we will use their money appropriately and carefully to ensure that the children that need our help will receive it.

 

Amber (far left, beside Wiley) receiving a donation from Great Wolf Lodge

Can you walk us through what happens after a donation is made to Food4Kids? How is food purchased, delivered to schools, and sent home to the families in need?

 

We work with a variety of vendors to procure the best possible products for our food packages. Our weekend packages require a balance of grains, high protein items, fresh produce, and healthy snacks. We also need to be cognizant of the size and weight of the foods that we are sending home. Some of the children we support are quite young and they need to carry this package home in their backpack, so we don't want it to be heavy.


Every Wednesday a new group of volunteers joins us at our office to assemble all of the food packages for the weekend. Sometimes it's a corporation doing a team building day, other times it's a group of friends who are trying to give back to their community, and occasionally it's people that are celebrating a milestone. People genuinely enjoy the experience and it's amazing how quickly you can put 500 food packages together.


Once the food packages are assembled, they are organized into routes and on Fridays our volunteer drivers deliver them to the schools. Once they arrive at the schools, our school liaison ensures that the bags are placed discreetly into the backpacks of the children who are registered in our program.

 

A recent food package sent home with every child for the weekend. Valued at approximately $15

The Food4Kids Niagara website says there are currently 30 schools and 482 children in Niagara who are participating in the program. That is a big number. Is there an even greater need than what you can currently provide for though?

 

That is a big number and I truly wish there wasn't such a need for our program. Unfortunately, there are still hundreds of children waiting for us to help them. We have an amazing and generous community though, and we will work tirelessly until we can reach all the students that need us.

 

 

How does a child get added to the program?


Every school has a poverty rate associated with it. Essentially, it's a number gathered through the census and reported by the Ministry of Education that indicates how many students in a school are living below the low-income measure. We have used this data to prioritize schools across the region and to help us assess the need for our program in each school. Once we have secured sufficient funding, we connect with principals to open our program and assist students in their school. The principals and teachers are very aware of students experiencing limited access to food in their home. After a discussion with the family, the schools submit a referral and parent permission form to Food4Kids and we get them started in the program.


Unfortunately, some of the time there are more children in need at a school than there are spaces offered.

 

How much does it cost to feed a child every week, and how much is needed to add a new school to the program? How many children are accepted into the program from each school?


It costs $15 to produce a weekend bag for each child each week. $600 will feed a child for the school year (September-June), and $800 will feed a child for the entire year including the summer. In the summer months (July and August), we give each child a $25 grocery gift card each week for eight weeks because they are not able to access the student nutrition program when they are not at school. Our mission is still to support weekend feeding, but we also understand that these children need a little extra help in the summer.


It is difficult to say how much it costs to add a school. Our smallest school only has four students being supported, while our largest school has thirty-six students being supported. When we approach a school to be added to our program, we have a general idea of what the needs are in the school, and we provide that number to the principal. At that point, they would let us know if they will be needing all of the spots, if there are some that they don't need, or if they will need to put some children on a wait list.



Do families ever leave the program?

 

Students exit the program for a variety of reasons. Some of them move out of the district, and others transfer to a school that does not have our program running in it yet. However, our favorite reason for students to leave our program, by far, is because their family's financial situation has improved. Nothing makes us happier than getting that phone call.

 

 

Someone is reading this and wants to help, but doesn’t have the money to do so. Are you still accepting volunteers? What do the volunteers do?


One of the wonderful things about our program as that there are so many ways to help. Obviously, we rely on financial donations to be able to operate, but volunteers are just as important to us. Without them, our food packages wouldn’t get assembled and they wouldn’t get delivered. We depend on volunteers to help us shop for the items that we can't source through our vendors, we look for people to assist us with our fundraisers and our food drives, and we have some administrative duties that people can help with as well. I would encourage anybody that is interested in volunteering to reach out to us, and we can have a chat to see where their skills might fit best.


A volunteer with food donations.

 

Your job must be so hard, but I’m sure it is also very rewarding. Can you share a time with us where you felt really proud of something that you were able to do through Food4Kids Niagara?


You are absolutely right. There are days that I shed some tears, but there are also so many uplifting moments. How many people get to go to a job where they see the best in everyone, every day? People seek out our organization to give us their money, time, and talent to help children that they don't even know. Teachers go above and beyond because they know that without their advocacy one of their students might not eat on the weekend. Businesses host events with the sole purpose of raising money to donate back to kids that are hungry. It's a constant reminder that good wins over bad, and that people are kind and compassionate. We have built a charity that people believe in and feel good about being involved with and that makes me feel very proud.

 

 

What is next for Food4Kids Niagara? Any fundraisers we should know about?!

 

We always have something going on! Watch our social media platforms for information on our Flowers4Mom campaign – that’s a fun, feel good fundraiser. When a $40 donation is made to Food4Kids Niagara, we will deliver a hanging flower basket to the person of your choice on Mother's Day weekend. Moms love that their kids bought them flowers and helped to feed kids that are hungry! You can earn ‘favourite child’ status for a day with this gift!


Last year's Flowers 4 Mom Campaign (2023)

We’ve covered a lot here! Is there anything that I haven’t asked yet, that you would like to tell us about?


It’s important for people to remember that children do not choose to be hungry, and they are not in control of their family’s budget. For the students in our program, hunger is not just an occasional missed meal - it is a way of life. We know that children who live with chronic hunger develop physically and socially at a slower pace than their peers, experience higher levels of anxiety, hyperactivity, irritability, and aggression. Even relatively short nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact a child’s health. 


When children receive the nourishment they need, they can concentrate better in class, have higher energy levels, improve test scores and attendance, and become more social. 

If we are truly committed to breaking the root causes of poverty, we need to focus resources on children ensuring they are provided the tools needed to grow, thrive, and succeed. Let them learn, socialize, and have fun, so that they can lead us into the future!



 

Donate:

 If you would like to donate to Food4Kids Niagara, you can do so here!

Volunteer: I am also organizing a group of us to volunteer on April 10th at 10am to assemble food packages for that weekend! Let me know if you would like to do this with us!


Thank you in advance for your help supporting such a great cause, and thank you Amber for doing this interview with me!

62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page