When schools closed, in-school nutrition programs closed too. United Way made connections to keep food and basic needs flowing.
Samia Osman loved coming to Neighbourhood Resident’s Association of Westminster Park (NRAWP) programs with her five kids. It was here at the Optimist Club portable nestled between two public schools that they got a healthy breakfast, did fun activities, made crafts and learned how to cook.
When the provincial lockdown closed schools and other public buildings, NRAWP had to close too. Suddenly, Osman’s anchor to the community and the safety net that helped her family stretch their food budget, was gone.
“We all felt so sad. My kids loved coming here,” says Osman. “I loved volunteering here too. It made me feel good inside doing something for the community.”
As soon as the pandemic hit, programs across the region faced the same challenge: how to get food safely to hungry kids and families.
The Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) was one of them. Without in-school classes, they had no way to feed kids at more than 489 schools across Southwestern Ontario. Last year alone, the program served over 18 million breakfasts and snacks to 113,641 students. As program coordinator for OSNP in London, VON Middlesex Elgin needed community partners with deep roots in local communities.
United Way was in a perfect position to help. As the largest non-government funder of social services in our region, they connected VON to the Child and Youth Network and partner agencies like South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre (SLNRC) and to programs like NRAWP. Within four weeks, OSNP funds were flowing to innovative emergency food programs anchored in neighbourhoods, not buildings.
“Because United Way is at the table with the policy makers, politicians and change makers, we can be on the frontlines with those in need,” says Nancy Needham, Executive Director at SLNRC, who saw a tenfold increase in demand for emergency food and basic needs.
By May, Osman was back at NRAWP’s familiar portable on Thursdays, this time to pick up Breakfast Bags for her kids filled with healthy food for the week plus a few snacks and fun activities they could do on their own.
Around the same time, Eat2Learn, a United Way partner agency providing in-school nutrition programs in ElginCounty, started offering Food Box Fridays, a physically distanced food pick-up program supporting school families struggling to make ends meet.
“Thanks to United Way and the support of the community, we were able to support 6,811 children and youth and 3,850 adults with food hampers and grocery cards during the school closures,” says Charlotte McDonald, CommunityDevelopment Coordinator.
“These hampers gave people the supplies they needed to bridge a difficult time, and the grocery cards gave families the dignity to choose.”