There are programs available to help feed children in the morning and at lunch time so they don't run out of energy during the school day, but what about after school when those same stomachs are growling again?

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Sharon Redsky (from left) reaches for snacks as Rick Frost of the Winnipeg Foundation and the Assiniboine Credit Union's Al Morin help out at the University of Winnipeg's Change Ur Tune music program. It's one of many programs funded by the foundation's Nourishing Potential program.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sharon Redsky (from left) reaches for snacks as Rick Frost of the Winnipeg Foundation and the Assiniboine Credit Union's Al Morin help out at the University of Winnipeg's Change Ur Tune music program. It's one of many programs funded by the foundation's Nourishing Potential program.

There are programs available to help feed children in the morning and at lunch time so they don't run out of energy during the school day, but what about after school when those same stomachs are growling again?

Well, thanks to a unique program of the Winnipeg Foundation -- and partners Assiniboine Credit Union and the Manitoba government -- there is a program aimed at doing just that.

Called Nourishing Potential, the program is hoping to alleviate hunger by boosting child and youth nutrition programs in Winnipeg.

The program was launched early last year, and already it has collected more than $1.5 million in donations toward its $5-million endowment fund goal.

It has also paid out 40 grants worth more than $260,000 in its first year. The next grants, which are capped at a maximum of $10,000, will be announced soon.

Rick Frost, CEO of the Winnipeg Foundation, says once they have $5 million in the kitty, the foundation will be able to pay out about $250,000 a year in perpetuity.

"Everybody in the city knows there is an issue of some kids being hungry," Frost says.

"It's not a happy fact, but we all know it. We asked ourselves, 'is there a cause we can focus on?' So two and a half years ago, we convened meetings with child-serving organizations and asked them 'Where are the gaps?'"

"They said after-school programs."

Frost says the organization would help if money could be directed to allow after-school programs serving low-income areas to be able to buy more food, better food, equipment to store it in, and train people in the city's licencing requirements for food-handling.

"Anybody who has a kid knows when they come home after school the first thing they say is "What's to eat?' " he said.

"If you are trying to offer a sports program or an arts program after school or have them at a community centre for a few hours, these children are hungry.

"Everybody agrees feeding kids is a community priority."

Some programs operated by the University of Winnipeg's Wii Chiiwaakanak Learning Centre and Community Learning program are supported by Nourishing Potential.

Sharon Redsky, the program's manager, says her program also takes advantage of the university's diversity food service, which serves food from different ethnic cultures.

"It exposes the kids to different food," she says.

"For many, it was the first time they had tried zucchini."

Redsky says having food for the children attending several different programs helps the children fully appreciate the programs.

"The kids come here and you can notice they are on edge. But once they eat, they relax. A lot of our kids and families don't always have the means to afford a healthy meal.

"Supporting our kids' education is our sacred duty... Nourishing Potential helps us."

Michelle Schmidt, director of programs with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, says Nourishing Potential helps fund its Cool Moves program, which battles child obesity with nutrition and activity.

"Our program promotes nutritional eating with the kids," Schmidt says.

"They get to come to the club and enjoy a healthy and nutritious meal, perhaps the only one they will have that day. Without (Nourishing Potential) it would be a big deterrent to our program. They help supplement what we get from Winnipeg Harvest."

Other programs funded by Nourishing Potential include:

  • $10,000 to the Nor'West Co-op Community Health Centre for its Kids in the Kitchen program;
  • $10,000 to Rossbrook House for its after-school meal program, including new kitchen equipment and food-handler training;
  • $7,000 to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for snacks for its after-school Sistema music program at Elwick School; and
  • $8,996 to Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) for its meal program for street-entrenched youth and kitchen training program.

Nourishing Potential is guided by a steering committee with co-chairs Otto Lang and Katherine Morrisseau Sinclair, and members that include Hot 103's Ace Burpee and provincial Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief.

Al Morin, CEO of the Assiniboine Credit Union, said the financial institution became a founding member shortly after hearing about the program.

"It is in keeping with our values to partner with community groups and organizations," Morin says. "It provides healthy foods to young and developing children."

Morin says he also likes that the groups can decide for themselves the greatest need for the money they receive, whether it is buying food or refrigerators or training staff.

"It is meant to support the very broad spectrum of needs," he says.

"Now we're trying to create an endowment fund so the program can continue in perpetuity."

Frost pointed to statistics produced by the Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba that show the need for the program. It's the organization that funds nutrition programs in schools across the province. It fed 13,000 children in more than 500 programs in 2009.

The council says more than 6,000 children and young people would have missed breakfast or lunch if not for nutrition programs. It also says 62 per cent of high school students and 31 per cent of elementary students miss breakfast every day, while 50 per cent of boys and girls don't drink enough milk.

As well, only half of the boys and 65 per cent of the girls eat fruit a minimum of five days a week.

"We are giving small grants, but they are very strategic," Frost says.

"And they go to the least-advantaged neighbourhoods in the city. We just have to keep building the endowment fund."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
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Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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