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Army of volunteers packs healthy food to help fight summer hunger in children

Hundreds of thousands of children across Canada rely on school meal programs during the school year, and for some, it’s often their only consistent source of healthy food, a national charitable organization says.

Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada says school programs can include breakfast, snack and lunch, and children can struggle to access meals outside of the school year.

“During the summer, those school meal programs that a lot of families rely on shut down,” Beardsley said.

“It’s a really tough time for families who are struggling. They don’t have access to some of the supportive programs. This program helps food banks deliver food to kids during that summertime.”

That’s why teams of volunteers gathered in Mississauga this week to assemble packs of healthy food that will be delivered by food banks to children in need this summer.

The packing days, held Tuesday and Wednesday, and organized by the national charitable organization Food Banks Canada, took place in The International Centre in Mississauga. The goal was to have the volunteers put together 200,000 child friendly packs of healthy food. 

Food Banks Canada said it plans to distribute the packs through the summer months to food banks in more than 200 communities across the country. The organization says food banks determine the best way to get the food to children, such as through community programs or summer camps that target low income families.

A volunteer opens a box during a Food Banks Canada packing drive at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont., on May 15, 2024.
A volunteer opens a box during a Food Banks Canada packing drive at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont., on May 15, 2024. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Roughly one in three people who rely on Canadian food banks are children, according to Food Banks Canada.

“Families with kids are over-represented in food bank use,” Beardsley said.

The packing days come at a time when the number of food bank users is at an all-time high in the Greater Toronto Area and across the country, Beardsley said.

“What we’re seeing right now at food banks across Canada is the highest level of need for food banks that we’ve ever seen in Canadian history.” 

The healthy food packs contain shelf-stable child-friendly items such as granola bars, apple sauce, oatmeal, seed butters, cheese dippers, fruit bars, cereals and sunflower seeds. Local food banks use grant money from Food Banks Canada to add fresh foods, including fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cheese and milk.

Volunteers help pack lunches during a Food Banks Canada packing drive, at the International Centre, in Mississauga, Ont., on May 15, 2024.
Two volunteers sort through items on Wednesday. The volunteers were made up of groups from socially minded corporations. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Matt Bruce, a volunteer with a team from Kraft Heinz, said the team came to the packing day to support food banks and children in need.

“This is just one way that we can support the cause and be able to make sure that there’s a support system in place in the short term to be able to help,” Bruce said.

Marie-Eve Robert, vice-president of marketing and corporate social responsibility for Bel Group Canada, said the corporation had 23 people helping out at the event. She said working with Food Banks Canada is the “perfect partnership” for Bel Group Canada. The day is a “team building” activity, she added.

“It’s really important to be part of any organization or to support any organization that’s fighting against hunger and food insecurity,” Robert said.

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