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Bay St. George YMCA Kids Eat Smart

Cheryl Johnson with the Bay St. George YMCA in 2022 (above) and in March 2020 (below) with food for the Kids East Smart Foundation hamper program to support children and families in need during COVID-19 lockdowns. – Submitted photos

By Jaymie L. White Special to the Appalachian

BAY ST. GEORGE – Since COVID-19 has forced communities into lockdown numerous times between 2020 and 2022, Bay St. George YMCA (BSG YMCA) and the Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador (KESFNL) have partnered once again to distribute food hampers to families in need within the community. KESFNL’s vision is to see every school-aged child in the province attend school well-nourished and ready to learn.

Celina Styoles, Executive Director of KESFNL said their goal is to ensure every child has access to food at school, at no added cost to families, and it is with that goal in mind that the hamper project first began.

“Children and youth who are home from school and who would otherwise have breakfast at school or a snack at their community centre, our purpose is to support these families in need and help deliver food to their homes.”

Stoyles said that in March 2020, as schools transitioned to online learning, many children were left without access to healthy meals.

“As a result of school closures, Kids Eat Smart received many urgent calls and emails from concerned donors, community leaders and the school community about children who relied on the meals provided by Kids Eat Smart. Our staff at Kids Eat Smart knew they had to do something, and we had to act quickly to find a new way to continue to offer food to those who need it.”

The foundation mobilized as quickly as possible, working with grocery stores and community centres across the province to provide hampers to families in need.

Cheryl Johnson with the BSG YMCA said they have worked with KESFNL numerous times in the past for after school programs, and when NL entered full lockdown, they reached out to her wanting to offer 30 hampers.

“That was the first time and it just continued to happen. The first time was supposed to be 30 hampers. Then they reached out to me because they couldn’t get in contact with anyone from Stephenville Crossing area, so they asked me to do 20 hampers out in that area and that’s how I arrived at 50 hampers. I think this time is the sixth time I’ve done hampers for them since COVID began.”

Johnson said the list is standard and includes many staples and nutritious foods for the families. Hampers have been distributed from Port au Port East to Barachois Brook and everywhere in between.

“For me, it was very eye-opening to see how much of a need there is in our community. When I first started I didn’t have a clear picture of what that was in our area. You just don’t think that it’s there, but there is a great need. When you see kids coming to the door and they see four litres of milk and they’re excited about it, it’s very gratifying, but it puts a little hold on your soul.”

The need was exasperated by the fact that people were unable to leave their homes and were dining at home more, and that is a resource not available to everyone.

“A lot of those kids when they would come to school for the breakfast program, that would be a large part of their eating for the day. So if they’re not going to school and aren’t leaving the house for much of anything, every morsel comes from the home and there’s a need to increase the supply in these households.”

Johnson delivers the hampers herself in an effort to keep the names of those receiving them private.

“I’ve had multiple offers for people to help but I try to keep it as confidential as possible and that’s why I hand deliver them myself. I know it’s not a list you want to be giving out to anybody. Confidentiality is key here. So in working with the schools they ask permission for the name to be given, and they know I’ll be arriving with the food hamper.”

Stoyles said staff and volunteers, local grocery stores and the community have really come together to support children and deserve special thanks.

“We are trying to act quickly to help protect many of those most vulnerable and now during these challenging times our community centres are strong. They have a great connection and bond with those families who they serve. Through our hampers program, we will offer a safe and inclusive food program for our communities, so all children and families are served. By involving our local communities, it creates social interaction, volunteerism and local pride and our community centres are an excellent resource in providing families with access to food, when they need it the most.”

Johnson said the outcome has been positive.

“When schools are closed, Kids Eat Smart Foundation NL will find a way to serve and support children and youth who would otherwise have breakfast at school or a meal at their community centre in our Homework Haven program.”

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