How many times have you heard “Mooooooom, I’m hungry!” since March Break and social-isolation started?
We are guessing, it’s only about a million.

Only parents, caregivers, and teachers, truly know the terrifying transformation that happens when a child is hungry. Pre-schoolers change from gentle, cuddly-bunnies into ravenous pterodactyls at exactly twelve seconds past lunch and well-stocked pantries are demolished when raided by teenagers with the voracious appetite of a tyrannosaurus.

As a mom of 2 hungry tyrannosaurus teenagers, Melanie Currie notes that the grocery shopping process is not easy, to say the least. “They would go to school every day with packed lunches and I was surprised to learn that someone else was also feeding them at school,” Melanie noted. They described how they would get “snacks” between homeroom class and second period classes. Sometimes it was an apple other times it was a granola bar and it was thanks to the Student Nutrition program. It is a program that provides food for students because (in their own words) “Hungry bellies can't focus on learning, mom!” which is a common morning phrase in Melanie’s home.

“My teens are grateful to have the snacks on days when they run out of the house without breakfast, or when they’ve left their lunch bag behind on the kitchen counter.” Now my teens and home during this time of social isolation and back to raiding my cupboards once again. In a home that I am able to still provide them food”


United Way of Chatham-Kent is working closely with local grocers to purchase grocery store gift cards.

Photo: Shannon Vyvey, a cashier at Mark & Sarah's No Frills in Wallaceburg is presenting gift cards to Steve Pratt on April 2, 2020


Meanwhile, not all homes are this lucky. When it was announced that schools were closed to allow social-isolation, social media was abuzz with teachers and their concerns for students who rely on those snacks. These students had their distribution channel for food supports closed.

It was Ms. Lowther, a local K to eight arts and phys ed teacher, who found a way to raise this issue with the United Way of Chatham-Kent. “Schools provide so much more than just simply teaching the curriculum to those students. With these closures, there are now more gaps out there for families,” said Ms. Lowther. She first reached out to Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, a local municipal councillor, who put her in touch with Steve Pratt at the United Way. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they had to find a way to put food into the hands of the people that needed it.

It was within days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started doing daily updates that United Way and CK Public Health had a program together which could ensure that children would still have access to food. The United Way of Chatham-Kent began collecting resources for basic needs on their website and worked closely with CK Public Health to administer the COVID-19 CK Student Nutrition Food Assistance Program.

“The goal is to limit person to person interaction as much as possible, to limit the spread, and adhere to the recommendations of the medical experts.” said Steve Pratt, CEO of the United Way. "Technology has allowed us to stay connected, while we all work to ensure that the most vulnerable in our community are still able to access food, safe shelter, and other necessary supports.”

Through the link for COVID-19 CK Student Nutrition Food Assistance Program, families can register their preschoolers, elementary or secondary students, and receive a voucher for a gift card, redeemable at a local grocer of their choosing (locations in Blenheim, Chatham, Dresden, Ridgetown, Tilbury and Wallaceburg). As the situation changes regarding on how Ontario is flattening the curve; the program too is adapting to meet these changes to ensure there is safe access to food.

At the time of this posting, over 1000 students have been registered from all age groups with $40,000 invested in the support effort, with $19,000 already processed & delivered through grocery store gift cards!

“We work on the premise that access to food is essential, and that all people have the right to adequate and healthy food.” Says Janelle Arnew, speaking on behalf of Adam Davies, Co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program.

Traditionally, through the schools each year, the Student Nutrition program provides a million snacks/meals to 10,000 students in elementary and secondary schools across Chatham-Kent. Funding which used to go to deliver these meals in the schools are now going through COVID-19 CK Student Nutrition Food Assistance Program and are also getting matched with donations coming through by individuals and community partners. When families register for the program, the donations are provided to them in the form of gift cards to local grocers in their neighbourhoods. It is thanks to the United Way of Chatham-Kent’s partnership with Gigit that families are able to register with just a click of a link. Turn around is usually within 2 business days after registering to receiving the cards which families can use immediately on food they know their children will eat.

Funding for this program is limited and United Way of Chatham-Kent is committed to doing their best to meet local needs through this collaborative approach. If you have the means to do so please consider donating through to ensure basic needs such as food are met throughout Chatham-Kent.