Organizers at Youville Centre are looking for volunteers with an appetite to help nourish vulnerable students at Archwood School.
The centre — a St. Vital-based non-profit community health resource organization — runs Nutrition on the Go, a food security program that offers a healthy in-school lunch or snack twice a week. Usually, a homemade meal is served on Tuesday and a homemade snack on Thursday.
Local seniors are integral to the intergenerational initiative, as they not only prepare the meals from scratch; they are also involved with menu planning and grocery shopping alongside Youville staff.
Marian Jones, Youville’s fund development and communications officer, said the need for volunteers is heightened at this time of year, as many snowbirds leave behind the Winnipeg winter for warmer climes.
"While working with older adults is very rewarding, there is a natural attrition within that age group," Jones said.
"It’s critical to have continued recruitment of volunteers to maintain our program, especially in the winter months when many are migrating south, which causes a diminished volunteer base."
The reality is the program serves an important need based on the school’s student demographic, Jones said.
"It is an uncomfortable truth that without this program, some of the students at this school would go hungry," she said.
"Many of these children go to school poorly nourished, which means their energy levels, memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, concentration and behaviour are all negatively impacted."
The volunteers also benefit from the program, as it helps reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness, and helps provide purpose and a chance to impart wisdom, said another key organizer.
"It’s actually a two-fold thing here, as part of what we’re looking at with the adult volunteers is keeping them connected," said Cesar Gonzales, a community health nurse at Youville, who lives in River Heights.
"There’s a meaning and purpose here, as the volunteers are able to give back to the community," he added, noting Nutrition on the Go evolved from an initiative called Kitchen Table Wisdom at St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church in St. Vital.
He said the program works on a four-week rotation cycle, with a new option introduced every fifth week. Current weekly menu items include chicken soup, spaghetti soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese with vegetables and soft tacos.
Gonzales said the program also caters to kids with cultural dietary requirements, such as using halal chicken for Muslim students.
Volunteer Mary Zyloway, a mother-of-six who lives in Southdale, said the program is a chance to give back.
"When you work for your pleasure, you get more pleasure, rather than just expecting something," she said.
Archwood principal Jack Fraser said the school community is grateful for the efforts of organizers and volunteers.
"Research tells us that students who are properly nourished do well in school," Fraser said. "We are very appreciative of the work of Youville and the volunteer seniors, who are helping to make this happen for our students at Archwood."
For more information, visit www.youville.ca or call 204-255-4840.