Community Foundation grant supports prepared food pilot project in area schools

Image via the Food Sharing Project.

Earlier this year, the Food Sharing Project, in partnership with Great Lakes Kitchen, launched a pilot project delivering healthy foods to schools, thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area (CKFA.)

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, according to a release from the organization. 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, the organization stated.

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 per cent at many schools, while school staff who coordinate meal and snack programs have no additional time to expand those programs.” 

“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,” he stated.

According to the release, The Food Sharing Project partnered with Great Lakes Kitchen, an initiative of VOCEC, to prepare meals for area schools. 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 said that they 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,” said Mills. 

According to the release, 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 travels from Great Lakes Kitchen to The Food Sharing Project’s warehouse and on to the pilot schools.

Initially, in April, six schools received Chicken Ranch Wraps. The pilot project was expanded to 12 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. According to the release, all meals meet the strict Provincial criteria required of student nutrition programs.

The Food Sharing Project said that 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. According to the release, 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,” said Mills, noting that 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,” he explained.

“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.”

Learn more about the Food Sharing Project on their website, and read more about the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area here.

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