Food4Kids feeds hungry children and hungrier hearts


Rated as one of the best places to live in Canada, you probably wouldn’t think there are many hungry kids in Oakville. But you’d be wrong.

“It was a bit of a shock to me when I first started that there were so many kids that needed this service,” said Josee Normand, a volunteer at Food4Kids. “I found it a little difficult to believe that there are kids in a city like Oakville that need food.”

Food4Kids is a charitable program that operates in the Oakville, Milton, Hamilton and Burlington areas. The program’s volunteers send 1,100 at-risk children home each Friday with a discreet bag of food for the weekend.

“I try to make it slightly different every week so that the children get some variety, I usually put in about 12 or 13 items,” said Jennifer Steventon, program coordinator of Food4Kids’ Oakville office.

Those items include protein like a can of tuna, a chicken or tuna kit with crackers, something filling like a bagel and soup, or a tin of baked beans, and at least four fresh fruit products or something like baby carrots with dressing.

“Along with those we’ll put in some snack items, things like Bear Paws or cereal bars or oatmeal,” said Steventon. “I try to give them something nice like a cookie or the Bear Paws because they’re kids, and I want to give them a little bit of hope that every Friday they get something nice and there’s something to look forward to.”

Lena Bassford, Food4Kids’ executive director, found her inspiration to start the program when she visited a breakfast program one Monday morning. Outside a 10-year-old boy was waiting an hour before the doors were set to open. It was dark, it was cold, and the child was alone. The boy hadn’t eaten since Friday.

“These kids are going home to empty cupboards and fridges for the weekend,” said Gayle Kabbash, community relations manager of the Oakville office. “Hence Food4Kids was inspired by that one story.”

Even in a place like Oakville, the fortunes of one family can change without a moment’s notice.

“It’s not the child’s fault, it’s circumstance,” said Kabbash. “It’s not the parents fault either. Some of these parents are working two or three jobs just to try to support their kids.”

Steventon added that these types of situations don’t only affect the children.

“Everybody thinks about the children and how hard it is for them,” said Steventon. “But for the parents it must be heartbreaking every day.”

Such difficult circumstances can put deep emotional strain on the whole family, so Food4Kids aims to help these families by removing the worry of not being able to feed their children.

“We’re healing those families as well, it’s not just about filling tummies,” said Steventon. “It’s more holistic than that.”

Steventon said that the number of children they help usually goes up by three or four each week.

Food4Kids is gearing up for a “battle of the chefs” where eight restaurant chefs will compete for the title of top chef. Every person in attendance will have a ballot and will vote for their favourite chef.

“It’ll be fun,” said Kabbash with a smile on her face.

The Halton Regional Police are on board to partner for the event, and Kabbash is hoping to hold the event at police headquarters on Bronte this June. The proceeds will provide the funds to move forward and expand.

Food4Kids also runs a summer program where they deliver bags of food to the doors of the families they help throughout the school year. During the summer these families will be given a bag of dairy, a bag of protein, a bag of grains, and a bag with all the ingredients they need to cook an included recipe with the food.

“For that program we definitely need more volunteers,” said Kabbash.

If you’re interested in volunteering at Food4Kids call (905) 469-3113 for the Oakville office, and (905) 741-0060 for the Hamilton office.