During a year when many were more vulnerable not only to the pandemic but to the economic fallout, a Comox Valley food partnership helped get healthy food to students and families.
In all, the Good Food Box program delivered the goods to about 200 families through this past year.
Maurita Prato, executive director for LUSH Valley Food Action Society, spoke to school trustees at the latest board of education meeting in February about the effects of its partnership with the school district as well as ways to expand the relationship. Most notable was the Good Food Box Program, which supported vulnerable students and their families from April into December last year, along with other people in the community.
“I don’t know if people knew we went right through to Dec. 18,” she said.
Through the program, families received twice-monthly grocery boxes of local food, procured through partnerships with 18 farmers.
“We want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved with the local food system,” Prato said.
The demand is there, with many food insecure families in the Comox Valley. An estimated 20 per cent of children experience poverty, she said, and 31 per cent of community food bank users are children.
Through the program, the food was bused to schools to help 200 households, and in all amounted to 3,833 boxes, each containing a week’s worth of fresh food. Between funding and in-kind support between the school district and LUSH Valley, the program was equal to about $275,000. Other partners included Indigenous Education and various community agencies and organizations.
“We’re able to do more than we could do without each other,” Prato said. “These partnerships are incredible.”
She showed trustees the statistics for Good Food Boxes for the year. Through 2020, they sent out 11,447 units, with a third going to students and their families. In all, the program covered 604 households and more than 1,500 people, and as of December, there was a waiting list of 72.
The Good Food Box is not the only project on which LUSH Valley has been working with the school district. For the last few years, it has collaborated on the Healthy Student Meal program working with Indigenous Education at a dozen schools to provide meals and snacks to more than 800 students each week. This translates into about 24,000 meals and 180,000 health snacks over a year.
Prato also mentioned a report from March 2020 on a partnership between LUSH Valley and the Ministry of Agriculture looking at how to get more local food into schools, but because of the timing at the outset of the pandemic, it never got final approval from the ministry.
“We had to do a final presentation that we didn’t get to do, but the whole report is completed,” she said.
Finally, she spoke about Farm to School work in February 2020 to draft a vision for some kind of regional food coordinator, with that person perhaps working in a non-profit group or the school district. Underlying this is the fact that LUSH Valley is also part of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, which could help lead to more pilot projects.
“The Comox Valley is actually really recognized as a leader,” she said. “It’s good to know about this program…. There’s some really exciting things … nationally.”
As far next steps, she is hoping for more financial support around programs like the Good Food Box or expanding the Healthy Student Meal program to all schools. As well, she said LUSH Valley wants a conversation around more community school gardens, adding they have a pilot program coming in the spring with four school sites.
When asked about the number of school gardens, Prato said, “Almost every school has some sort of garden,” adding they might not all be used to the same extent.
Board of education chair Sheila McDonnell reiterated this, saying, “We have spaces set aside. Some are more developed than others.” She expanded on the relationship this past year over the Good Food Box, saying the province had given districts the mandate to support vulnerable students, and said the board and staff will be discussing some of the ideas for the partnership further.