17 Oct Niagara This Week features Community Crew and its lunch program in Fort Erie
Community Crew helps Fort Erie kids fill the hunger gap
Organization’s school program serves up hundreds of lunches each week
All around Fort Erie there’s a morning ritual: parents packing lunches for their kids before they send them off to school.
But not every child is that fortunate as their parents struggle to put food on the table let alone pack their children a nutritious lunch for school.
That’s where groups like Community Crew step in.
“We give we give the school year a couple of weeks to get started, and we work with the teachers and principals to make sure that all the families who need (help) are plugged into the program,” said Katy Herron, Community Crew’s fundraising manager. “There’s always new families that come in, and they observe and they look at who has lunch and who doesn’t.”
And Community Crew will reach out to schools, she added, and begin to piece together which students need to be a part of the program, geared for students in kindergarten to Grade 8.
The organization got its start back in 2013 as a life group organized by volunteers of the old Central Community Church in St. Catharines. It received its non-profit status and was registered as a federal charity two years later. It starting with providing bagged lunches to 42 students at Edith Cavell Public School in St. Catharines.
“They just started serving muffins to kids,” Herron said. “And then it turned into lunches once a week.”
The program — which receives no government funding — as it is known today began in 2017, and more schools were added across the region, including Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Welland and Thorold. Fort Erie schools taking part in the program include Peace Bridge Public School, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Elementary School and John Brant Public School in Ridgeway. Soon to be added will be St. George Catholic Elementary School in Crystal Beach. Lunches are provided three days a week.
With the number of schools increasing, so too, does the number of lunches Community Crew is providing, said executive director Sarah Pritula. “In Fort Erie, we serve 426 lunches a week, that’s over three days,” she said.” That’s on average.”
“These schools are in the highest poverty rating in the Niagara Region,” Herron added.
Pritula said, Community Crew relies on poverty statistics provided by the federal government to determine the need in an area and the number of students that may need help. “Typically what happens is when the kids sign up for the program, they stay for the entire year unless mom or dad’s situation changes or they move,” she said.
There sometimes can be some hesitation on the part of families, Pritula said. “We’ve had families maybe even be reluctant to get help,” she said. “We tell them that this is confidential. We’re not a government program and we’re self-funded. There can be some hesitation, even though they know they need it.”
Lunches provided follow the Canada Food Guide: a protein and a carb, a fruit, vegetable and a peanut-free snack, Herron said.
“We also serve halal lunches and gluten-free and dairy-free. We really accommodate what that child can eat,” she said. “If they have special dietary needs, that’s a pretty big deal. Every single school we’re in has some special lunches that are marked.”
Community Crew gets packing and delivery help from a team of volunteers at packing locations in Fort Erie (St. Michael’s Catholic Church Hall) and St. Catharines (240 Scott St.).
More information on Community Crew, including on how to donate or to volunteer, can be found at communitycrew.ca.
Community Crew volunteers Tess Mejia, left, and Bunny Bremner pack lunches at St. Micheal’s Catholic Church Hall. A federal registered charity, Community Crew provides more than 400 lunches to students at four Fort Erie schools. – Richard Hutton/Metroland