In September of 2016, a group of 12 students at Juno Beach Academy started creating lunches for hungry teens at two neighbouring schools. Each week of this school year the students and staff at Juno Beach came together to create 50 lunches! The program coordinator, M.J., shares:
“The Returning Grade 12 program is a program for severely disabled 18 & 19 year olds who are not yet ready to transition to adult services. The focus of the program is to facilitate learning and preparation for life after high school.
The primary focus for students is to build skills in the areas of community engagement, transit skills, work readiness, life skills, communication and social interactions. Each student has a work experience in the community, supported by Vecova work coaches. In addition to travel training on city transit, the group practices work skills and life skills including making lunches for students in need.
The BB4CK program allows these young adults to learn how to make a sandwich, count veggies/snacks, learn about a nutritious lunch, proper food prep and hygiene, work in a group, follow directions, become competent and confident, be a leader, and feel good about giving back to our community.”
One volunteer, Alla, is a Syrian refugee who arrived in Calgary with his family about a year ago. “Alla has Down Syndrome and only spoke about 6-8 words of English at the beginning of the year. He quickly learned sign language from 3 of our deaf students. He can now express himself using English or sign language quite well. Through the BB4CK program, Alla has been exposed to different foods and knows how to make/pack a nutritious lunch. He is now always willing to try some new food. He enjoys making the lunches and is quite proud when he finishes a task.”
At our recent AGM, Kim from Vecova shared a presentation about how volunteering positively impacts Vecova students. View her presentation in the video below.
BB4CK lunches are provided to children and youth across our city, from kindergarten to grade 12. A student in N.E Calgary who is currently working toward completing their high school diploma recently shared the impact a lunch has on their life:
“I would like to personally thank you for the generosity and hard work you have done for the sake of students at my school. Many of the students use the resources you have given to us every day. Some may not have been able to come to school with a full stomach, but now they can work to their fullest potential. Often times some of the students will even bring home some food to help their household. The incredible impact you make to all the students here really makes a supportive environment for our school. Often times I myself would only have one meal a day because I never had a resource to eat breakfast or lunch. But now I have the energy to get through the day and do the work in order to graduate and get my diploma. Thank you again for the amazing difference you made for all of us.”
This summer, BB4CK worked with Calgary Swims For Lunch (CSFL), a group based out of the Forest Lawn Outdoor Pool. CSFL hosts a volunteer-based program to spread water safety and provide lunch to those in need during the summer months. Led by Makena Hind and Olivia Graham, ideas for the program began to take shape over the years Hind has worked in the Forest Lawn community. In the winter of 2015 Hind volunteered in the BB4CK kitchen, “it was that experience that really furthered my inspiration and dedication to develop a program,” says Hind.
Hind gathered information about the community and the number of children that access programs during the school year and found that there was an opportunity for a summer lunch program paired with an educational component. Hind’s proposal to operate CSFL out of the Forest Lawn Outdoor Pool was approved by Benchmark Projects Ltd. and the Calgary Outdoor Pool Association. Hind and Graham set to work securing community connections and raising community awareness about the program for the July 4 start date, “the local schools and social workers assisted with reaching out to the kids who could benefit from our program,” says Hind. The support continued with the aquatic staff at the Forest Lawn Outdoor Pool. “The lifeguards and instructors volunteered their time whenever needed and many reached out to family and friends to ensure we had enough volunteers each day” shares Hind.
Soon, CSFL was receiving volunteers and food donations from across the city. Working hard to access diverse food sources, CSFL utilized the Calgary Food Bank’s Food Link program, and received funding from BB4CK for staple meal items. BB4CK was able to connect CSFL and Calgary Co-op, who donated loaves of bread for sandwiches, and Leftovers, which brought fresh produce and a variety of items to the program with weekly deliveries of donated food from Market 17. “Next summer we hope to have Community Fridays where different organizations or individuals have the opportunity to sponsor a lunch for all the kids in the CSFL program” says Hind. “We were fortunate enough to have two individual and corporate donations this year. Emerald Management, and Sharon from M&M Food Market donated hotdogs and hamburgers.” In mid-July, Hind invited the Forest Lawn Calgary Boys and Girls Club to join in the swimming and lunch program and the Club’s kids participated in the program on Fridays throughout the summer. “Our partnership with the Boys and Girls Club is one we hope to continue next year” says Hind.
The program was a great success with the children who participated this summer. “The response from the kids was outstanding!” Says Hind. “They really enjoyed the opportunity to learn and practice swimming, for many it was their first opportunity to swim. There were a number of touching personal stories from some of the kids, it certainly had an impact on myself and the volunteers, which further enforced our commitment to the program. The parents and grandparents that we had the chance to speak with were thankful for the program and really seemed to enjoy watching the kids learn how to swim, and learn basic ice safety, boat safety, and water safety skills” says Hind. “The kid’s favorite lunches included pizza bagels, BBQ grilled cheese, quesadillas, and of course hamburgers and hotdogs! Thanks to the deliveries from Leftovers the kids were also able to try new foods like microgreens, arugula, and grilled eggplant.”
“I think that Calgary has a lot of untapped resources to fuel programs like CSFL. Many communities in Calgary would benefit from summer drop-in programs that offer lunch and activities! Along the CSFL journey it has become apparent to continually ask questions and ask for help! You never know who can help you bring your vision to life unless you reach out for support! CSFL began with a motivated team wanting to address hunger and drowning prevention. We had to make minimal kitchen modifications to ensure that we could provide lunch; contacting Alberta Health Services and other grassroots programs or established organizations such as BB4CK is the best way for others to gain knowledge and insight if they are interested in developing a program in their own community” shares Hind, “collaboration is key, and really made a huge difference in collecting food and resources for our program! To anyone who is looking for support starting a nonprofit, it is out there, and finding it will make the greatest difference in your program.”
Looking toward summer 2017, Hind and her team have big plans. “We hope to create more partnerships with local grocery stores, restaurants, and non-profit organizations in 2017. Our plan for the future is to provide as many lessons and lunches as we can. Hopefully next summer, we can get a few more volunteers so we can accept more participants into the program. We hope to continue having older participants help us plan lessons and menu items. As we reach older kids in the community we hope to help them develop strong swimming and leadership skills, with opportunities to take a swim instructor and/or lifeguarding course.”
“The Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids lunch program has been available to students for several years at our K-9 school. There are students who arrive at the school with little or no breakfast or snack or lunch. The school, through volunteers and the support of the school staff and programs such as Breakfast Clubs of Canada, The Boys and Girls Clubs FANS program, and Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids lunch program, provides wholesome food for the students to support them in their learning.
The Brown Bagging lunches are sought after by students of all ages.
One student of whom I am aware is a small, shy junior high school student who is reluctant to speak in class or with her classmates. She has had poor attendance in the past and does not seek out a lunch for herself out of embarrassment of her family’s financial situation. She struggles with her own self-image in which she identifies as needing to be trim, fit and thin. The school staff have advocated for her and ensure she has something to eat each day. She is beginning to select some food at noon hour by herself when she feels safe to do so. She has the opportunity to sit with a staff member and is beginning to recognize her own strengths and is becoming more aware of the need to provide fuel for her body each day. Her emerging maturity and confidence has grown in part by recognizing her own value and dignity and by nurturing and advocating for herself.
Her attendance and grades in school have improved during the past year and she has begun to talk of her aspirations for future learning and to be able to do things for herself. Having access to a noon meal each day ensures that she is a given consistent support to grow emotionally and physically and to participate fully in her community.”
The power of a sandwich exceeds its most basic function. Not only can a sandwich fill a tummy and satisfy hunger; a sandwich can demonstrate love and comfort, emphasize trust and safety, nurture understanding and caring and encourage community and empowerment.
At BB4CK we see the evidence of this in everything we do. The power of a sandwich is most apparent when we see and hear about the impact that it has on the life of a child and those who care for and support this child.
The following story comes from a BB4CK lunch program administrator at a SE Calgary elementary school:
“Our school has a male student in Gr. 5 who has two younger sisters that also attend our school. When they started here, the boy would hang around the office in the hall area every lunch hour. He was very quiet and I was never able to strike up a conversation with him. Soon I put it together; he was watching me hand out full or part lunches. I noticed he never ate anything. After a couple of weeks, the boy came into the office and hung around my desk, but always said he wasn’t hungry. Finally, he would accept the smallest snack, but that was it. Then he began to trust me and see we didn’t judge these hungry children. Through conversation I learned that whatever food his mom (a single parent) has goes to his two younger sisters. I checked for a week and the girls had somewhat of a lunch (which Brown Bagging now supplements). This boy now feels comfortable and safe to come for food. Now instead of hanging in the hall not eating and not talking, he is social, trusting and fed. Even though our students are young, they still come with fears of telling people there is no food at home. We work at making it safe and normal for us to give out food.”
This year, BB4CK has been honoured to be selected as one of the 14 charities that the Calgary Herald’s Christmas Fund will support. The Herald’s Mike Bell recently visited the Kitchen, and tells the story about that experience here.
On the lower level of Bishop Grandin High School is the Diverse Learning classroom, which serves as a learning space and a retreat for students in that program. Their teachers are devoted to these students and know them well. They can talk about everything from the kids’ academic needs and daily schedules to their personal lives—but what emerges again and again is these students’ capacity for kindness.
Two Diverse Learning students, Nicholas, 18, and Zack, 15, are devoted to helping peers. Each day, the boys help to pack and distribute lunches to students who would otherwise go without.
A peer-to-peer program
The program is a collaboration between Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids, the diverse learning students, the guidance office, homeroom teachers and the school’s Culinary Arts Program. It also depends on word-of-mouth. “Students bring their peers here,” says Nicholas and Zack’s teacher. “It’s a very safe place [the students] have created.”
The students’ participation is integrated with the Alberta curriculum as a component of the Health and Life Skills program of study. To prepare and provide lunches, maintain high hygiene standards and account for allergies is no small responsibility.
Some Diverse Learning students are also taking Culinary Arts, a program run by chef Scott, who spent more than twenty years in professional kitchens before pursuing his teaching degree. When he arrived at the school five years ago, he oversaw the installation of a commercial kitchen just up the hall from the Diverse Learning classroom.
Scott’s students, dressed in chef’s whites, plan menus, calculate margins, prepare meals from scratch and sell them each day in the cafeteria. They also help to prepare the brown bag lunches that Nicholas and Zack distribute.
A cooperative effort
Bishop Grandin teachers have been cooperating to provide meals for students since Scott arrived at the school five years ago and learned there were students in need. “When they’re thinking about their stomachs they’re not thinking about school,” he says.
The Diverse Learning teachers say they make a connection with every student who accesses the lunch program, and every student says thank you. “It’s not a free lunch, it’s a provided lunch. It’s an entirely different relationship from saying, ‘Let me buy you lunch.’”
Making lunches provides an excellent learning opportunity and necessary community-support, but to Nicholas the benefits are more personal. “It feels good to help someone who doesn’t have a lunch.”
With the support of BB4CK, Shaganappi community members are working together to feed children in their neighborhood.
Monika Jones is a Sales Consultant at Chartwell Eau Claire Care Residence, an assisted living facility a couple of blocks south of the Peace Bridge. Since March 2014, four or five of the facility’s residents have gathered twice a week to make sandwiches and pack fruit and veggies through the Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids program. They make and deliver 94 lunches to the Discovering Choices High School outreach program downtown and Crescent Heights High School. This is Jones’s answer to the question, “What is a sandwich?”
“A sandwich is purpose.”
Monika: “I got feedback from Discovering Choices High School outreach program, one of the schools that we help and deliver to. The feedback was that the students can tell that the lunches that we’re bringing— that they’re made with love.
“And that just warmed my heart because in making those sandwiches every week, I know what that means to the residents here. It brings back memories of when they made lunch for their own kids, and for the residents who help with the program—most of them are women—it’s from love. They feel like they’re making a sandwich for their own child.
“For the residents, the lunches give them a sense of purpose. They have the ability to give back to their community, and a good reason to get up in the morning. They feel that they can still participate in things, that they can give back and make a difference.”
© 2020 Brown Bagging for Calgary Street Kids Society