L to R, Praneeta Singh, Mikaela Gill, Monica Hahn-Belanger and Agnieszka Krishna

L to R, Praneeta Singh, Mikaela Gill, Monica Hahn-Belanger and Agnieszka Krishna

Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids asked Monica Hahn-Belanger, the culinary arts teacher and chef at Forest Lawn High School, this question. What is lunch?

This is what she told us.

“Lunch is learning.”

At Forest Lawn High School, combating food insecurity is part of the curriculum. Once a week, Grade 10 students in the Forest Lawn High School culinary arts program make about 20 sandwiches for children at Keeler Elementary. The program began more than a year ago, when Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids approached the high school and told them many students in the community needed lunches. Hahn-Belanger didn’t hesitate. “I said, ‘Really? How many do you need?’”

Hahn-Belanger personally delivers the lunches to the school and oversees their preparation. “The students have a lot of fun with it. They decorate the lunch bags with stickers, especially for special holidays—like hearts for Valentine’s Day. They know the lunches are for little kids.”

Extending the program

At the end of 2014, the school and BB4CK expanded the program to include students at Forest Lawn High School itself, and Hahn-Belanger’s students make about 30 lunches each day for their classmates. Hahn-Belanger says the decision to extend the program was a response to a significant need. “Student services could not keep up with the demand from our students.” The food the school could access for hungry students wasn’t nutritious.

Working from scratch

In Hahn-Belanger’s kitchen, the food is fresh and the lunches are balanced. Students bake buns and cookies, roast beef, chop and package vegetables and fruit, and make sandwiches with meat, lettuce and cheese. “The only thing we don’t make is the cheese!”

New skills and increased confidence

Not only are students learning cooking techniques, they’re also learning portion control, food hygiene and a sense of professional pride that Hahn-Belanger says will be useful when they enter the workforce. “They gain more confidence. They learn how to get everything ready themselves. They get set up, get their food and equipment and work independently.”

Hahn-Belanger says that because the culinary arts program has a full-service commercial kitchen, it has the capacity to serve more lunches more frequently. In the future, she hopes to expand the program, possibly to serve students at the community’s junior high as well.

It’s important to her to see the program continue and thrive. “I grew up in this neighbourhood. I didn’t go hungry but I knew a lot of kids who did, and it’s something that’s outside their control. When their stomachs are growling, kids can’t think. I would like to see more kids able to move ahead and to learn.”

Find out how you can create a community group to make lunches for students in your area.

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