Anne-Marie Bouchard Photography
On March 16th, school closures across Ontario were announced. The next day, ONFE’s office went remote.
Immediately, we were concerned about students’ loss of school meals. ONFE’s School Breakfast Program usually serves 13,500 children and youth every single school day – 2.5 million meals every school year – in Ottawa’s 4 public school boards.
We began to work around the clock to see what could be done to change the program model to something that could serve students during school closures.
An unofficial slogan of ONFE’s School Breakfast Program is that ‘it takes a village to feed a child.’ With the help of our village, we were able to create ONFE’s School Breakfast Replacement Kits to distribute to K-12 students across the city. The initial kits contained 18 school meals and cost $22 each.
Partnerships moved quickly to make this a reality
Neighbourhood heroes who made this new program possible include the fine folks at Jack Larabie Distribution Inc.
“It has been our pleasure over the last two years to see the smile on kids’ faces at the schools when we bring healthy food. We will continue to do our part to assist in getting food to kids during these difficult times,” says Jack Larabie. Without their support, deliveries of ONFE’s School Breakfast Replacement Kits to communities across the city wouldn’t be possible.
Another key logistical partner is Ontario Student Nutrition Services. By quickly adapting to the new situation, OSNS was able to support us in this new initiative.
“The team in Ottawa has done an incredible job in bringing together a broad network quickly in an effort to meet the needs of children most impacted by food insecurity during some pretty daunting times,” says Andrew Reimer, President of Ontario Student Nutrition Services. “This initiative is an inspiring example of how our food industry partners have come together with passion and common purpose, even in uncertain times for their own businesses.”
Thanks to these partners, a network of community food cupboards, and the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses, we made our first deliveries on March 31st. By the end of that week, we had delivered 784 boxes.
By Easter weekend, 1,568 boxes — containing 28,224 school meals – had been delivered to the community, and every child housed in Ottawa’s emergency shelters had received a box.
As of this Friday, May 15th, 9,335 boxes will have been delivered, containing 192,708 meals.
We have now reached every geographical region of the city of Ottawa, with the help of 46 community agencies.
And there is still work to do. Schools are closed, and children and youth are still hungry.
Learning and adapting
We continue to learn as we go through this journey of caring for student nutrition through the pandemic. We are now implementing the next stage of our plan, which includes expanding the School Breakfast Replacement Kit to contain 24 meals instead of 18 meals. This means that once a child receives a kit, they have the equivalent of 1 month of school breakfasts, allowing us to further reduce travel for food and to reach more students while others are being sustained by their kits.
We have also begun to work directly with cultural family service centres, to support greater access to School Breakfast Replacement Kits to students in different communities. And we are continuing to serve every child currently housed in Ottawa’s emergency shelters.
The length of school closures continues to be uncertain, and the pandemic has raised new concerns around food security. At ONFE, we are hard at work creating contingency plans to implement as the situation changes, so that we can continue to fuel kids and ignite learning.
Anne-Marie Bouchard Photography
Thank you to our village
We are grateful to our partners and donors who continue to come alongside Ottawa’s K-12 students during this difficult time. Our 4 Ottawa school boards – the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the Ottawa Catholic School Board, le Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, and le Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario – continue to help shape and provide key input on the School Breakfast Replacement Kit program. Breakfast Clubs of Canada has provided us with increased funding to meet the need. Grocery Foundation provided extra funding, grocery cards, and vouchers. The Education Foundation made a significant donation, in recognition of our work in OCDSB schools. Happy Roots Foundation have donated to the cause, as have the Taggart Parkes Foundation. IKEA Ottawa have provided 600 special bags of dishes and cutlery for the most vulnerable youth in their neighbourhood, to be distributed with the School Breakfast Replacement Kits.
And we have been blown away by the response of individuals in the Ottawa community – including many teachers and school staff who have seen the value of the School Breakfast Program. Generous donations have come in from people we’ve never been in touch with before, who simply believe as we do that no child can learn and grow on an empty stomach. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
We will continue to keep you – our village – updated on ONFE’s School Breakfast Replacement Kits as we continue to adapt to the changing situation.
If you would like to learn more about what’s inside ONFE’s School Breakfast Replacement Kits, or to donate a kit, visit bit.ly/ONFEfeedskids.