“Food access is a right, and it’s also a need,” says Deron Barlow, the project coordinator with United Way Harvest Algoma.
Along with several partners and supporters, Barlow and his team of volunteers at Harvest Algoma are working hard to prepare and distribute meals to kids in need throughout the Sault with the Every Breakfast Counts program.
The initiative was founded in 2018 to help address the summertime gap that students faced when the lunch programs many of them relied on during the school year were temporarily inaccessible for July and August.
Five years since its inception, the Every Breakfast Counts committee is now represented by a number of local partners, organizations, and agencies.
They include the mayor, as well as the District of Sault Ste. Marie, the District’s Social Services Administration Board, United Way, Harvest Algoma, Algoma Family Services, the SSM Innovation Centre, Childcare Algoma, the EarlyON Child and Family Centre, and Kids for Kids.
For a third straight year, United Way Harvest Algoma is supplying its kitchen space so thousands of meals can be prepared and packaged for kids in need of nourishment throughout the summer
Every meal that ends up on a child’s table is prepared and delivered by a hardworking team of volunteers.
In his first year as Harvest Algoma’s project coordinator, Deron Barlow says food is a basic right, especially for children, and shares the importance of their efforts in making sure no child goes hungry.
“Food is what brings people together,” he says. “It’s what we congregate around. People always have great memories of food, and those memories tie to family and other joyful experiences. Maybe a lunch meal doesn’t, but people need food. The more people we can get healthy meals to, the better.”
Every Breakfast Counts is in the second week of its eight week-long summer program.
Barlow explains they’re already seeing a rapid increase in demand since their efforts started up again last week.
“This summer, it started at 844 meals per week, and within the last three days, it has gone up to 1,050,” he says. “It’s great we’re supplying all those meals, but it’s also a little worrisome that over 1,000 kids in the Sault struggle to get food and lunches on their table.”
Meanwhile, Algoma Family Services sponsors the nutrition programs for the entire district throughout the school year.
In turn, Every Breakfast Counts follows the same health guidelines that AFS does.
Meals consist of a healthy selection which includes a sandwich, vegetables, granola bars, fresh fruits, milk, and water.
Lock City Dairies provides the milk, and Gordon Food Service is the primary distributor for the food items.
Brenda Clarke, the manager of Community Services and Strategic Initiatives with AFS, says food access is crucial for a child’s mental well-being.
“If you’re hungry, you can’t even deal with the issues of mental health and anxiety,” she says. “You have to take care of one before you can take care of the other.”
Clarke says she’s incredibly grateful for the collaborative efforts between the community organizations to help make Every Breakfast Counts an impactful endeavour.
“Food is an easy thing to come together on for kids,” she says. “When the partners were informed that we had this many children throughout the summer that are really struggling without the student nutrition program, it was fairly easy for the partners to come together and say, ‘lets do something for kids in the community.’”
Volunteers have about two hours of prep in the mornings to make sandwiches and organize the items before everything gets bagged and picked up for 11 a.m.
Ron Black, one of the program’s volunteer cooks, says it’s his first year helping with Every Breakfast Counts, and he’s thrilled to be part of the team.
“I love cooking, I’ve been cooking pretty much all my life,” he says. “Feeding people has been a passion of mine, but feeding children is a greater passion. A child cannot go without a meal. It’s a team effort here.”
Between Monday and Friday, meals are sent out several times a week on five routes, covering 11 drop-off sites total.
Drop-off locations include the old Rosedale school, as well as Crawford Ave, Boston Ave, Shannon Rd, Capp Ave, Adrian Drive, Greco and Manzo pools, Second Line Housing Hub, Urban Indigenous EarlyON site, Holy Angels and their Early Mobile Unit.
Several organizations and community partners involved with the program rotate through the responsibilities of making those deliveries happen.
Mayor Christian Provenzano is beyond impressed with all the local efforts that have gone in to make Every Breakfast Counts a reality.
“This program is a testament to the strength and generosity of our community,” he says. “A need was identified to provide food to children that didn’t have readily access to it during the summertime, and the community came together.”
Mayor Provenzano is hopeful the next mayor and council that gets elected in October will continue to prioritize this program.
“I hope the next mayor and council continue it,” he says. “They’ll have to support it, because it does need someone willing to go up there and raise some resources for it. If the city continues to support it, all of our community partners will stay involved because everybody believes it’s a valuable program.”