Feeding Children and Families in the Wake of COVID-19

This week, we are bringing you an interview with Mary D’Alton, the person in charge of strategic development at Nutrition for Learning (N4L), one of the recipients of our special grants. Join us for a closer look at the local heroes in the N4L community in the midst of this pandemic.

Thank you Mary for joining us today. Do you have testimonials of heroes within your initiative (volunteers, delivery people, etc.) to share with us?

Personally, I do not have a single testimonial. It starts with the board of directors whose main concern is ensuring children continue to have nutritious snacks; it then moves along to the volunteer coordinator who ensures there are enough volunteers in place to make this a success. And of course the volunteers who said “yes” knowing that this is an essential service and are an extension of a front-line worker. Next are the drivers (especially Neil) who tirelessly get up all hours of the morning, make pickups, load trucks, create routes and drive around the city making stops, always ensuring the safety of the volunteers and families and always with a smile on their face. Neil really loves his job and is so dedicated to ensuring that everyone who needs something, gets something.

What is the impact of giving food to families in need in your community during the COVID-19 crisis?

From the look on parents’ and kids’ faces alike, the impact that the Nutrition for Learning program is making is huge. When we put the box of food on the cart, the look of relief is apparent. Not only do parents know that their kids are getting the same nutritious snacks as at school, but also the extra food items we are including are taking a little financial stress off the families. The younger kids are so excited to get the lunch bag to see what is inside.

Have you seen an increase in families and children asking for food?

There definitely has been an increase. I would think as more and more parents are finding it difficult to make ends meet, whatever we include takes the pressure off the grocery list. We have had so many wonderful additions/food donations to this program. I am truly amazed at the companies who are helping Nutrition for Learning. Working hand in hand with the Food Banks has enabled Nutrition for Learning to add some awesome staples – salad kits and hot oatmeal, to name a couple.

Would you like to share a portrait of one of your volunteers or someone else working on the field within your initiative?

The principal at Central Public School in Cambridge. She has been with us every Thursday since the program started.  She shows up every week and greets and speaks with every student/parent, checking in with them to make sure they are doing okay. She has been continually reaching out to parents from her school and has increased the number of families that come every week. Last Thursday, there must have been 25 families lined up when we got there.

Everyone at N4L is a community hero. Throughout this pandemic experience, I’ve met lots of positive and inspiring people who work and volunteer at N4L.

If I had to choose one, I have been with Neil most of the time… Neil has been a wonderful role model, patient and positive. He makes volunteers feel appreciated. Neil truly loves his job. It is very noticeable in his work and the smile he has every morning.

As the weeks pass, the need rises. I am noticing in some locations families are coming out and using the service more so than four weeks prior.

We have some who are coming out to pick stuff up for friends, family members and neighbours so they do not need to leave their home.

Do you have funny or happy moments in the field you would like to share with us?

Wednesday (April 15th) we stopped at St. Andrew’s Public School in Cambridge. In addition to everything else, we were giving out Bear Paws. Neil opened a box of Bear Paws and found banana flavour. When he asked the parent if her child wanted banana flavour, she started jumping up and down saying to her daughter, “We love banana! That’s our favorite flavour!” It was so funny to watch both mom and daughter get so excited over banana-flavoured Bear Paws. Neil gave them an extra box and she kept saying thank you, thank you, thank you!

The volunteers that I have worked with are amazing. No matter the weather or the number of families we serve, everyone always has a smile on their face. The more families we serve, the bigger the smile on our faces. Parents are greeted with respect and families are so happy we are there. They are appreciative that Nutrition for Learning is still there even though schools are closed.

Many have commented that Nutrition for Learning being there is bigger than just the food. It is an outing for some and to see happy volunteer faces makes their day a little brighter too.

This afternoon, I ran out to grab some groceries. A lady I have never met was walking out of the grocery store. She stopped and asked if I work for Nutrition for Learning (I am assuming she saw me get out my jeep, with the Nutrition for Learning magnets). I said yes, I am a volunteer. She was so thankful for everything we do. She kept thanking me and genuinely told me to stay safe… That’s what makes this so rewarding: how the community appreciates the service we’re providing to those in need now more than ever.

Across the country, through the COVID-19 Emergency Fund, Breakfast Club of Canada collaborates with community organizations to ensure children receive the nutrition they need during this crisis. Stay in touch for new stories on our #LocalHeroes!

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