According to Andy Mills, Executive Director of The Food Sharing Project, the volume of healthy food being ordered by area schools has risen dramatically over the past two years: “We’ve seen the demand for increase by 30 to 40% at many schools, while school staff who coordinate meal and snack programs have no additional time to expand those programs.”
The Food Sharing Project sources healthy food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, that are delivered to schools at no cost, to supply their student nutrition programs. But especially with COVID-19 restrictions, much of the food being provided has switched to items that are in pre-packaged individual portions. School staff who organize in-school student nutrition programs simply don’t have the time to prepare an increasing variety of healthy options.
“We wanted to explore the concept of providing pre-made, nutritious meals, like sandwiches or wraps, that would be a nutritionally substantial meal for students, and easy for school staff to serve without having to spend time preparing them.”
The Food Sharing Project partnered with Great Lakes Kitchen, an initiative of VOCEC, to prepare meals. VOCEC is an agency of Providence Hospital which employs adults living with mental illness in a variety of jobs, including Great Lakes Kitchen which provides food items to several hospitality sites throughout Kingston.
Before committing to a full-scale operation, The Food Sharing Project wanted to run a pilot project. That is where the Community Foundation for Kingston & Area stepped in to help. “We knew there would be an additional cost to purchasing prepared foods, as well as other materials needed to test it out, so we applied for a grant from the Community Foundation.”
The Food Sharing Project received a grant of $10,212 in April 2022 to cover the anticipated additional costs for prepared foods, as well as the purchase of insulated cooler bags to keep food at a safe temperature as it traveled from Great Lakes Kitchen to The Food Sharing Project’s warehouse and on to the pilot schools.
Initially six schools received Chicken Ranch Wraps in April. The pilot project was expanded to twelve schools of various sizes and types across KFL&A, and the menu increased to include a Hummus and Veggie Wrap and a Southwestern Pasta Salad. All meals meet the strict Provincial criteria required of student nutrition programs.
An early survey showed a positive response from both school staff and students: Students ranked the flavour and freshness at 4.6 out of 5, and school coordinators unanimously agreed that being able to offer prepared foods made their job easier. They all indicated they would
continue to order other prepared foods as more items were added.
Some comments from coordinators included “This is truly a wonderful program.” (Clarendon Central PS, Plevna), “The kids are enjoying the wraps. They have been a hit!” (Land O’Lakes PS, Mountain Grove) and “They are a hit at our school students really enjoy them.” (Molly Brant ES, Kingston)
“As the school year wraps up, we will be conducting another survey of schools and students. Then we will spend time in the summer analyzing the prepared food pilot project.” The analysis will look at logistics, cost, efficiency, as well as flavour, freshness and other food options.
“But to get to this point, it was important to have the support of the Community Foundation. It meant that we didn’t have to take money from our existing food budget to test out something new.”
“In the immediate term, it allowed us to offer healthy meals to students, and support school staff, with the added benefit of generating employment for the workers at Great Lakes Kitchen. In the longer term, it has given us the opportunity to test an idea without risk.”
About The Food Sharing Project
The Food Sharing Project is a local charity and partner of Student Nutrition Ontario, which delivers 5 tonnes of healthy food – about $20,000 in value – each week to over 80 schools across Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington. For more information, please visit: www.foodsharingproject.org
About the Community Foundation for Kingston & Area
The Community Foundation for Kingston & Area strengthens our community by connecting the generosity of donors with the energy and ideas of people and charities addressing local community needs. Together, we’ve been making meaningful and lasting impacts in our community since 1995. To learn more, please visit: www.cfka.org