Canada: Food Banks Canada’s After the Bell program provides summer meals

During the summer months, children who benefit from free school breakfasts and lunches lose access to an important source of healthy meals. Food Banks Canada’s After the Bell program works to address childhood hunger during the summer months. Started in 2015, the program has grown each year, from 700 food packs distributed in its first year to 100,000 food packs distributed in 2019. A dietician helps design the food pack to ensure the healthfulness of its contents, which typically include items like milk, oatmeal, raisins, hummus, crackers, and cereal. Food Banks Canada (FBC) also provides the food banks with a CAD$2 donation per food pack to help food banks supplement fresh fruits and vegetables in each food pack.

In 2019 food banks in 10 provinces and two territories throughout the country received food packs, reaching more than 100 communities. Each recipient food bank determines the best distribution method, either through the food banks themselves or through beneficiary organizations like summer camps. Depending on need, some children may receive a food pack once during the summer, whereas others may receive a pack every week. Danielle McIntyre, executive director of Interfaith Food Bank Society, commented on the After the Bell program: “Having a bundle of healthy, nutritious snacks—just for them—has created a sense of excitement for children coming to visit the food bank and a sense of relief for their parents in knowing their children are looking forward to eating fresh fruits and vegetables and other snacks from their packs.”

The After the Bell program also includes nutrition and education activities. Its Food Explorers Cooking Club program provides educational programming for children ages 9 through 11. The curriculum includes teaching children to understand how food affects the body and how to make healthy eating choices. At the Newmarket Food Pantry in Newmarket, Ontario, which participated in the Food Explorers program during the fall of 2019, children learned about where food grows, how to make good food choices, and what was considered a healthy snack. During the final class, children shared what they had learned by preparing a meal to share with their families. FBC intends to expand this program to empower more children to make healthy eating choices and develop kitchen skills.

The program has grown each year, from 700 food packs distributed in 2015 to 100,000 food packs distributed in 2019.

With schools closed in Canada due to the COVID-19 crisis, children need food support more than ever. Knowing that both families and the food banks that serve them are going to be stretched for quite a while, FBC has adapted the After the Bell program and is distributing 130,000 food packs to children in need across the country. FBC extended the time period during which food banks can distribute food packs. Since schools were closed long before the school year would have normally ended, FBC sent food packs out earlier and food banks are able to distribute them as they see fit during the remaining “school year months” and throughout the summer. Food banks are coming up with new ways to reach children and their families since many of the summer programs they typically partner with, such as summer camps, are closed.

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