Helping to end summer child hunger one healthy food pack at a time

Edvin Odesskiy remembers when he was a younger student in school, and his fellow classmates would often have store-bought snacks like granola bars packed in their lunchboxes.

Granola bars may be a go-to for many families in Canada because they are nutritious and designed to be taken on the go, but Edvin says they can also be taken for granted by families living in more affluent households.

When he was a toddler, Edvin and his mother moved to Canada from Russia seeking new opportunities. A few years later, when his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was unable to work, Edvin says they were forced to use their local food bank.

Now 18, Edvin takes pride in paying it forward as a year-round volunteer for the North York Harvest Food Bank – the primary food bank for northern Toronto – in addition to working as a Community Food Space Trainee during the summer.

Given his ongoing work at North York Harvest Food Bank, Edvin has participated in Food Banks Canada’s After the Bell program in many ways.

After the Bell is Food Banks Canada’s national program dedicated to reducing child hunger, especially during the summer months when school-based meal and snack programs are not in session. Since 2015, the program has delivered over 665,000 nutritious, kid-friendly food packs to children from coast to coast to coast.

In 2023, to help fill the summer child hunger gap created when critical in-school meal programs are not available, 185,000 healthy food packs will be distributed to children experiencing food insecurity in over 200 communities in every province and territory across the country.

A portion of the After the Bell food packs are assembled at Food Banks Canada’s annual packing day volunteer event, with self-stable milk, oatmeal, granola bars and other things that kids love. The packs are then sent to food banks in high-need communities, where dedicated staff and volunteers like Edvin use grant money to add fresh fruit and vegetables before distribution, with the generous support of our Fresh Food Partner, Subway®️Canada.

“I just know that if I was a kid and I got one of those little green food packs, I would be over the moon,” Edvin says. “It’s just so cute because I know there’s a kid out there whose parents can’t afford to buy them granola bars. It’s wholesome and it’s making such a positive impact.”

More than one third of food bank users in Canada are children.

While the percentage of children accessing food bank services continues to slowly decline, children are still greatly overrepresented at food banks in this country.

HungerCount 2022, which is Food Banks Canada’s signature report documenting food bank use in Canada, found that 33 per cent of food bank users are children, even though children only represent approximately 20 per cent of the population.

According to Food Banks Canada CEO Kirstin Beardsley, the need becomes even greater during the summer.

“Food Banks Canada started the After the Bell program because we knew a lot of kids across this country were food-insecure and a lot of those kids rely on school meal programs during the school year, but during the summer when those school meal programs shut down, kids need access to healthy, nutritious food,” Beardsley said. “After the Bell is a really important program to me as a mom, when I think about the stress of not being able to provide for your children, and just how important it is that all of our corporate partners and communities come together to make sure that communities have access to the food they need.”

Kids should have kid problems. Not hunger problems.

That is why Food Banks Canada is grateful for loyal partners like Subway Canada, which is launching its fifth-annual Never Miss Lunch donation campaign in support of our After the Bell program.

As our exclusive Fresh Food Sponsor, Subway Canada’s Never Miss Lunch program will donate $1 from every footlong sold on Wednesday, June 21 to Food Banks Canada to help provide nutritious food to kids in need during the summer break, when many community-based lunch programs end.

“We are so proud to be a partner of Food Banks Canada and share their passion for alleviating hunger and creating a better future for all Canadians,” said Doug Fry, Country Managing Director, Subway Canada. “The Never Miss Lunch program is near and dear to our hearts at Subway Canada, and we’ve been honoured to show up for youth across Canada as the After the Bell fresh food sponsor for the last five years. We know that together, on this year’s Never Miss Lunch donation day, we can come together to help fight against food insecurity across the country and support children from coast to coast to coast.”

There are several ways to make a difference in the movement to end hunger once and for all.