In Burlington, a 10-year-old boy waits outside the locked doors of a school breakfast program that starts at 8:15.  It's only 7:15 as the child stands in the dark, in the cold and alone. A nice lady approaches him and he explains he was hungry and could he please have some food? That lady is Lena Basford, whom since the encounter has made it her business to feed the starving children within our communities.

It has been less than two years, and Basford's Food4Kids program is currently feeding more than 650 hungry children. Food4Kids is an organization that provides backpacks of healthy food for kids with limited or no food during the weekend breaks from school.

Previously employed for eight years as Halton's Regional Manager of Student Nutritional Programs,  Basford had the knowledge, skills and heart to found Food4Kids. “It was just the right thing to do. There is hunger in our community… these are our children and they belong to all of us.”

Upon hearing the statistics, Basford says it took her breath away. “I gathered some colleagues to assess the numbers and it startled us. In Halton there were 500 children, 600 in Niagara and in Hamilton a disturbing 1,200 children without food from Friday evening until Monday morning.”

Food4Kids works in partnership with the Board of Education. A critical component, teachers and staff help to identify children who appear hungry and those from impoverished families. Participants aged five to 14 years are referred to the organization by their school as children with limited access to food in their homes. Respectfully, the school submits a referral form that includes parental permission and a listing of younger siblings in the home.

Food items are packed by Food4Kids volunteers and delivered to schools each Friday morning. The food package is placed into the child's personal backpack, helping to shield them from any stigma. It includes a provision of foods from each food group including five servings per day of fruits and vegetables. The cost per backpack is $10 per week, or $400 to feed a child for an entire school year. Programs are 100 per cent funded by community donors.

Truth being, many of us could find ourselves in poverty, even if only temporarily. A father becomes too sick to work and can't pay the mortgage, a marriage breaks up, a single mother loses her job…and it goes on. Some families may be chronic while others just need help to get over a difficult time. “It need not be forever, it is just for now.”

Basford explains how many low income families are faced each month with the dilemma of paying for rent or buying food. “It becomes a question of being homeless or hungry. This program simply takes that decision off the family to ensure that until they get back on their feet we are there to help.”

Research has proven that even relatively short-term nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact a child's health, causing cognitive and developmental damage. They are tired and weak, and cannot perform to their full potential. 

In the 2013-2014 school year, it is expected Food4Kids will be facilitating programs in 38 Hamilton and Halton schools. “We make this a positive program focusing on the importance of healthy food for growing kids. Children tend to hide their hunger and it is our job to seek them out. To see the community come together for this purpose is a beautiful thing.”

But for Food4Kids, there are currently no existing programs in Hamilton or Halton providing for children without food on weekends. Child hunger is not an issue of charity; it is one of fairness. We can change it; one,
by one by one…

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