I was recently invited to the Wind Up Bird Cafe on College Street to learn more about the Toronto Foundation for Student Success’s Feed Tomorrow Week, which took place October 6-10, 2014. The Toronto Foundation for Student Success is the independent charity of the Toronto District School Board. Feed Tomorrow Week‘s goal is to raise awareness about the importance of student nutrition. Research conducted by the Toronto District School Board revealed that students who eat a healthy breakfast, snack and lunch perform better academically than those who eat poorly or skip meals. Not only do these students perform better, but they are more motivated and are also less likely to miss school on a regular basis.
Chef Sang Kim, owner of Wind Up Bird Cafe, shared his personal story of growing up in the Jane Finch neighbourhood where he was caught stealing food to feed his family. A security guard suggested that he find work at a restaurant in order to feed himself. Kim, owner of six restaurants, says the experience “catapulted him into the restaurant business” and produced his “love of food.” Wind Up Bird Cafe’s Executive Chef Yumiko Kobayishi said that preparing food for others “must fundamentally be an act of love.”
Currently, the Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) supports 160,000 healthy meals per school day in Toronto. These nutritious meals are delivered through 700 mostly school-based nutrition programs. I was surprised to learn that some of these nutrition programs are offered in parts of Toronto where you would least expect them, such as the Beaches neighbourhood. You might not think this is such a huge issue, but in Toronto, one in three children lives in poverty. The TFSS notes that a whopping 40% of Toronto children come to school hungry each day. The statistics are mind-numbing.
One young woman, who was homeless, made the decision to attend Contact Alternative School because they offered the student nutrition program. She says it has “really made a difference” in her education. In fact, she says she “only goes there because of the food.” Sandy Best of the TFSS told guests that “Contact started in an old Loblaws store in the East End of Toronto. They [students] came for the food, then they got an education.”
Schools that operate the school-based nutrition programs must purchase the food themselves from organizations such as FoodShare and Agropur, although some local businesses provide assistance and corporations such as Minute Maid have frequently donated juice boxes. For example, a local baker donates 16 loaves of bread each day to his neighbourhood school to provide ingredients for breakfast meals. Many schools are challenged in what meals they can offer students because they don’t have the proper kitchen facilities to prepare meals. In several schools, facilities such as nurse’s rooms have been converted to makeshift kitchens.
Parent Volunteer Rifat Khan, who came to Canada in 2005, spoke to guests about her experience of working with 30 volunteers at her children’s Thorncliffe Park school to feed almost 2,000 students in the breakfast and snack nutrition programs. Types of meals offered to students include fruits, cereal, English muffins, eggs, samosas, beans, breakfast burritos and Halal meals. Khan said that they have received “very positive feedback” from teachers regarding students’ improved academic performance.
beyond 3:30 is an after-school program offered by the Toronto Foundation for Student Success that provides meals and activities for 1,200 middle school kids in high-risk areas from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each school day. beyond 3:30 includes The Junior Chefs Program where students in Grades 5-8 help prepare healthy meals for participants in the program. Students must have their homework done in order to participate in the Junior Chefs Program. Typically, 6-8 students will participate on a rotating basis, preparing meals for anywhere from 30-50 students. The program teaches students to acquire the taste of healthy food. Executive Chef Yumiko Kobayashi led a demonstration, along with two students from the Junior Chefs Program, showcasing how to prepare Tofu Balls, one of the types of snacks prepared by students. We were treated with the results and they were delicious: crunchy, flavourful and not greasy.
We also sampled desserts prepared by the trio including an Orange pudding, Chocolate cupcake and Fruit and Nut granola bar.