By Chris Rovzar, Fox News
An innovative, Canadian-style program is making schools across the country a destination for immigrant children who are hungry and in need of emergency aid. In a school classroom, you’ll often find an outreach team offering non-perishable foods and help preparing meals for students.
The program started in 2008 in Toronto with the Enabling Education Partners for Change (EEEPC), which has now expanded to more than 800 schools throughout Canada. EEEPPC has raised over $9 million since its inception to supply free school meals to kids in need.
“We realized that the kids who used to go to poor communities were going to expensive schools and we realized that we can’t just provide the extra support for these kids; we have to start in the classroom and address that issue,” said Diane Parkkin, a food security expert who co-founded EEEPPC.
The program is an extension of the recognized Canadian model for providing meals to needy students. But rather than traditional school meals, students can choose from a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables or cheese and chicken from their school-based, free “school canteen.” With the help of volunteers, about 70% of Canadian students are fed a meal.
“The program does not replace the school breakfast and lunch program, it’s more of a complement to those meal plans,” said Parkkin. “Just because we may be providing meals to about 50% of kids doesn’t mean we’re going to displace the breakfast and lunch programs that are in place. The purpose of the program is to really respond to the issue of hunger where we know there is food insecurity.”
EEEPPC relies on donation of food from Canada-based grocery and grocery store chains. Each year, approximately 175 million meals are donated by groceries and other companies who believe in the cause.
“We have seen a tremendous response to the program from the corporate sector because they understand that providing free nutritious meals at school can make a big difference for our kids,” said Parkkin.
Anyone can visit the Food Bank for Education website to make a donation to EEEPPC, including federal and provincial governments, schools, hospitals, charities and individuals.
One particular organization that gives financial support to EEEPPC is Not For Dinner, a charity whose board of directors consists of prominent Canadian figures. According to a Not For Dinner spokesperson, roughly 1,000 volunteers from the company chip in to help to run the school kitchens.
The Food Bank for Education has partnered with local hospitals and established a program to transport food from hospital kitchens to schools.
The concern is that many immigrants and refugees may not be able to take advantage of the free school meals because many of them just don’t know where to turn when they’re hungry.
“There’s a whole dynamic that can be brought up around the fact that we actually provide meals to poor families or refugee families that live just a few blocks from a school; this might be an acknowledgment that our support for them may not be resonating with them,” said Parkkin.
For more information on EEEPPC or the Food Bank for Education, visit the organizations website.