Children & Youth Committee at Rotary Club of Guelph
FOOD4KIDS GUELPH
 
Food4Kids Guelph is a Rotary-inspired charity. 
 
THE PROGRAM
 
 
This belief is at the very heart of what drives Food4Kids.
 
When families are struggling to make ends meet, even for basic needs such as providing adequate food for their children, community support makes a world of difference. 
 
In normal times, the Food4Kids Guelph program provides weekend food bags for children from severely food-insecure homes, referred by their schools. The goal is to close the weekend gap for the children who absolutely depend on getting some food at school Monday to Friday (breakfast and snack programs) but who often struggle through weekends when they go home to sparse cupboards and fridges. Food4Kids delivers nutritious food bags to their schools on a Friday, where staff discreetly hand out the food bags to be taken home for the weekend - with a food bag being provided for each child age 1-14 in the household.
 
When schools are closed, or off-limits to volunteers due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, Food4Kids sends regular grocery gift cards to families to help with their purchase of food. 
 
 
HOW THIS PROGRAM BEGAN AT ROTARY
 
In 2017, a speaker at a Rotary Club of Guelph meeting described the weekend food gap suffered by some children in our midst. In fact, it was estimated that some 500 local children face this challenge. Incredulous and concerned to learn about this problem ("In Guelph?"), Rotarians decided to seek out and support whichever groups in Guelph were addressing this problem. After finding that NO ONE was, they decided that “someone” had to do something about it - and that ended being a group of Rotarians. The work began with a handful of committed Rotary volunteers plus start-up funding provided by the four Rotary Clubs of Guelph.
 
Collaboration by all four Guelph Rotary Clubs on this single project was a 'first' in almost 100 years of Rotary in Guelph. Previously, Rotarians from different clubs had often volunteered at each others' events, but not worked jointly on a single project. And this cross-club cooperation has since opened the door to many other cross-club cooperations!
 
Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the volunteers found an amazing program called FOOD4KIDS that had started in Hamilton, Ontario in 2012 and had since spread to other nearby communities. A Food4Kids program was already running in Kitchener-Waterloo and that team was willing to help our Guelph volunteers get started locally.  
 
A 15-week pilot program began in Spring 2018. It was highly successful and the ongoing program then launched in earnest in September 2018, growing during that first full school year to 7 schools and 90 children in Guelph. The next school year, 2019-2020, the program grew again, ending the year in June 2020 with 12 schools and 200 children. 
 
Several significant things happened in 2019-2020.
 
  • GOING SOLO AS AN INDEPENDENT CHARITY.  Operating originally as a 'branch' of the Food4Kids Waterloo program in Kitchener was invaluable for learning from them, but it presented some administrative burdens for both sides regarding the transfer back and forth of finances and issuance of tax receipts, so it was decided that Guelph would starting working towards "going solo" as a charity. Incorporation followed swiftly, but registering as a charity through the CRA took many months and was eventually obtained on July 1, 2019. The Guelph and Kitchener teams then severed their legal partnership but not their friendship and mutual admiration, which has endured. From then on, Food4Kids Guelph was an independent entity.
  • AN AFFILIATION AGREEMENT WITH FOOD4KIDS ONTARIO. By 2019, several independent Food4Kids charities had started up in Southern Ontario and it made sense for them to collaborate in certain joint fundraising,  joint buying power and joint sharing of minimum standards and best practices. Food4Kids Ontario was established to help coordinate this collaboration. Food4Kids Guelph gladly signed an "Affiliation Agreement" with Food4Kids Ontario and now maintains regular contact with all the other agencies. Food4Kids Guelph greatly benefits from this association.
  • COVID-19 STRUCK IN MARCH 2020. In mid-March 2020, just before Spring Break, the pandemic struck, starting a series of school closures and also the cancellation of important fundraisers. Unable to deliver weekend food bags to closed schools, Food4Kids pivoted to sending grocery gift cards to families to help with their purchase of food. Due to the dire needs of families, Food4Kids Guelph continued mailing gift cards throughout the summer holidays as well, requiring serious fundraising efforts by the charity. When the next school term began in September 2020, our district school boards established COVID restrictions at school properties limiting access to "essential" people - students, staff and emergency personnel. No parents, no volunteers, so Food4Kids was unable to deliver weekend food bags through the schools, and continued to mail grocery gift cards instead. This is likely to continue for the rest of the school year ending June 2021 and summer holidays 2021. Food4Kids looks forward to the day when food bags can be packed and delivered again, hopefully from September 2021.
Notwithstanding the complications of COVID closures, Food4Kids Guelph has continued to grow during the pandemic. By January 2021, 300 children at 18 schools were being served. By June 2021, expectations are that these numbers will climb to 20+ schools and between 300 and 350 children.