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Feeding students with the School Fuel program

Orillia’s snack sharing program
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An Orillia-based food bank is teaming up with a locally-run business to help address the rising number of kids facing food insecurity.

The Sharing Place Food Centre has been working towards supporting youth in need of healthy meals for years through its School Fuel program. The food bank is teaming up with Home Hardware in Orillia to help drum up donations for what the organization's executive director says is a growing need.

"You're a single mom, working hard, trying to provide for your kids and you're not able to put food in that lunchbox, that's a very stressful time and there's a lot of stigma attached to that," said Chris Peacock of The Sharing Place. "So we know if there's kids that are going to school without the healthy food required to be able to fuel their brains and their minds that we're able to support them."

Throughout April, Orillia's Home Hardware will match donations to the School Fuel program up to $20,000. The owners are parents themselves and recognize the need firsthand.

"When we saw that we could sort of provide impact by matching we saw that as a vehicle that we could jump on board and hopefully other people will as well," said partner Kirk Mclean.

Schools can place an order to purchase food through a secure e-commerce platform on a bi-weekly basis. The costs are split in half between the Sharing Centre and each school.

The program was first started in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. With students out of the classroom, many underprivileged youth were going without the nutrition programs held by schools that they relied on.

"So we stepped up to the plate and were able to work with our 23 local schools to distribute fresh, healthy, at that moment it was grab and go snacks that then got distributed to the kids in class," Peacock said.

In its early days, the School Fuel program helped about 1300 kids. Over the last few years as cost of living challenges impact more people the demand has risen, with approximately 4000 youth now relying on the program.

Peacock says about 1 in 5 families in Simcoe County are considered food insecure.

"If a kid shows up to school without food in their lunchbox can be a very stressful moment; it can be a moment where they don't want to sit with their friends because they don't have enough food in their lunch pail," Peacock said.

"So being able to supply those kids with fresh, healthy food, in school where they can access it in a stigma free environment is a wonderful thing and we at the Sharing Place look forward to supporting that program."

According to Peacock, the program has obvious health benefits and can also create a better learning environment for everyone, including those who do not rely on it.

"If one kid is hungry during the day they could throw off the entire class; you could have 30 kids that aren't going to have a solid learning day because of one kid who didn't have enough food and their behaviours can change," Peacock said. "So if we're able to give food to kids in class to keep their ability to learn up and their distractions down, it's an important thing."

Monetary donations are most appreciated as The Sharing Place has more buying power with each dollar. However food donations are always welcome and can also be dropped off at Home Hardware.

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