Summerlunch+ helps feed hungry children during their summer break
By: Lotoya Davids
As the summer comes to an end, Summerlunch+ continues to feed students during the school break.
“If you’re hungry you’re not getting the most out of your summer,” Susan Wright, founder of Summerlaunch+, said.
“We also teach them about food. We’re also trying to teach them a little bit every day. A little bit about the food they’re eating, the vitamins and minerals that go into that food where they get protein. We feel as though that education is stimulating for the brain.”
Wright previously worked in student nutrition and realized a growing need among students for resources outside of the school day. She founded Summerlunch+ as a way to give students the fuel to focus on learning while keeping their minds stimulated during the summer with education on nutrition.
Wright was also inspired by summer feeding programs in the US and Europe especially with the absence of any similar programs in Canada. She said the program was registered in late 2015 and was first piloted only in Thorncliffe park, but has since expanded its partnerships.
“I have a lot of the corporate support, but I don’t yet have government,” Wright said. “I would love to be able to build my organization so that we are supported in that private public partnership.”
With last year’s release of “Divided City: Life in Canada’s Child Poverty Capital,” Toronto was reported as having the highest rates of child poverty in the country. Reports from 2016 show that around 133,000 children were living in poverty, with limited access to basic resources like food.
Wright said that she has seen an increase to about 500 children a day this summer with SummerLaunch+, in comparison to 200 a day the previous year.
“We hope to double the number of meals we prepare. Last year we prepared around 10,000 meals in total and this year we expect to serve around 18,000,” Wright said.
Wright also said SummerLunch+ realizes the disparities in summer learning experiences for children from different economic backgrounds.
“Kids who are in low income families and who don’t have an opportunity to go to camp or who are not eating properly fall back, then have to be retaught,” Wright said. “About 20 per cent of the school year has to be retaught.”
Summerlunch+ also provides youth employment opportunities within the communities. The organisation has student employees who aid in preparing and serving the meals to children in summer camps. University student, Myfanwy Brown-Robinson, found out about the program when looking for jobs at non-profit organizations online.
“Certain things make a big difference in getting the kids to try what we’re making which is really important for what we do because we incorporate lots of vegetables which can be scary to kids,” Brown-Robinson said.
Brown-Robinson is currently the Culinary Supervisor, a position which requires helping the head chef oversee the kitchen.
“Something that is really useful is hearing feedback from the counsellors and having that rapport with the counsellors so we can develop the program.” Brown-Robinson said.
Wright said that a combination of summer camp, providing meals, and education on nutrition will help keep children’s minds mentally healthy and active throughout the summer.
“We take them into the garden we help them prepare meals and that also stimulates mental activity,” Wright said. “That helps to keep kids connected, as do the activities they do at camp. When they’re at camp and they’re running and playing and trying to figure things out that’s also really good for learning.”