The kids need us, says Food for Kids co-ordinator
By Darren Lum
Published Sept. 27, 2016
The Food for Kids of Haliburton County co-ordinator Aaron Walker is asking for help to feed the children in our schools.
This year’s loss of 15 program volunteers for the student nutrition program has caused him to cut back on the days his program offers nutritious food at its breakfasts and snack offerings to close to 1,600 students in all seven schools, including the Adult Education Training Centre in Haliburton.
Walker said now that funding has been secured there are not enough volunteers to offer as many as five days a week, which has been the practice for the past five years.
“We have grown it almost to full capacity where it’s been available every day of the week and now it’s just the problem of finding the actual volunteers because it is a purely volunteer run program. There are not actual staffing of this program,” he said.
On Friday, Walker said he and volunteers served close to 170 meals for breakfast to students at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School.
“If we’re putting out a 170 meals on Friday, what do you think we need on Tuesday and Thursday?” he said. “It’s just that we don’t have the people to do it. At least not consistently.”
The volunteer for the past seven years and co-ordinator for five calls the volunteering fun with a high level of camaraderie. He started because of a phone call made to his house to volunteer because of his son, a Grade 4 student at the time at JDHES. Although his Grade 6 daughter now attends the school, he can’t see himself quitting when she graduates. This enabled him to be involved at his children’s school and he believed in the program’s cause and how it fills a need for all students, regardless of their socio-economic status.
“The amount of kids going through there today was just a huge indicator of how busy it is. There was no leftovers. Super busy. You have to wade through the kids to see the food,” he said.
He points out this program is open to all students. Some children and youth either don’t have time or find they are not hungry at home and are hungry while at school.
“Volunteering can be as simple as one hour a week in the morning,” he said, referring to 8 a.m. to 9 a.m in most cases. “The best way to proceed would be to go to a school you’d like to help directly and talk to a principal or a secretary to find out what days they need help with.”
It can also be just one day a week, he adds.
He encourages those interested to contact the principals or secretaries at the specific school a volunteer wants to help at. A police check is required and applications can be obtained through the OPP Haliburton Highlands detachment in Minden. However every school has its own rules so inquire with them first. Walker said starting the police check process is important because it can take at least two weeks.
Started in 2000, this program provides more than 4,000 meals a week, possible because of the altruism of up to 60 volunteers. It receives funding from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Breakfast for Learning and the Breakfast Clubs of Canada, the Grocery Foundation, which covers close to half of the total cost, exceeding $75,000. The other half of the budget is covered by money raised for Food for Kids through Point in Time, fundraising events, private donations from businesses and social groups such as the Lions and Rotary from Minden and Haliburton.
Although some schools continue to run their programs, there won’t be any opportunities to expand the program without more volunteers.
“Hopefully if we have enough volunteers there’s enough to spell each other off so that no one has a lack of flexibility,” he said.
As little as one hour a week is all that is needed for volunteers.
There is great satisfaction in the work and it comes in the smiles and words of appreciation from the children, he said.
“A lot of the time they’re writing you a Christmas cards or Valentine Day cards or Easter cards. They come in and say, ‘hi.’ Some of them like to help out ... most of the kids will personally walk up and say, ‘Thanks a lot for doing the breakfast club,’” he said.