A Retrospective of the last 4 years: March 2024

A Retrospective of the last 4 years: March 2024

We wanted to take some time to share about the “journey” of Lunch Connection in the last 4 years since the lockdowns and the steps and changes along the way, including some of the behind-the-scenes moments.

First: if you were to travel back to Lunch Connection before COVID-19…

Before March 2020 Lunch Connection ran at 3 Schools: Saint John the Baptist/ King Edward, Hazen White- St. Francis, and Centennial.

The school coordinators at those schools and some key volunteers like Holly Singh and the late Bob Fairweather did the purchasing and planning for the meals. Volunteers and Inner City Staff made and distributed hot lunches in school and church kitchens. Even back then there were big changes frequently- from a complete rebranding years before, the move from centennial students walking to portland united church to staying at the school and adaptations to meet the changing needs of students during the influx of refugees. During these times, Inner City Youth Ministry staff attended and supported each of these school sites, and ICYM covered costs, each school ran independently of the other, with different menus, ways of delivering and different volunteer teams. We knew back then that while the programs did a great job of meeting the nutritional needs of the students, we would not be able to expand easily, and it was very dependent on a few volunteers, and the school coordinators. ICYM and the schools dreamed and had meetings back then about a program that operated with one central site- but it felt like a massive undertaking, and many years off.

Then it was March 13th 2020 and everything changed all at once as it was announced that schools would be closing temporarily. Erin Rideout (Director at the time) spent much of the weekend on the phone attempting to work with schools and partners to plan a stop-gap program to support students during the “2-week” break. Out of this was born “The Greater Saint John Emergency Food Program” a whole story on its own! Read about it here.

We (with many volunteers and partners) delivered 1736 food packs between March 15th and June 19th. It also became apparent that Lunch Connection had to make big changes since we couldn’t operate normally in the fall. A team was born and a plan was made, with School Coordinators, PALS, ICYM, and ASD-South.

In September 2020 we started the version of Lunch Connection we know now, operating with a hub kitchen. Initially, we had no idea if this was a temporary solution or a long-term change. While there were growing pains and some losses (we all still miss seeing the kids every day) we quickly realized that this program was exactly what everyone had dreamed of years before. School coordinators and staff would be less tied up with purchasing and running programs, and we could offer affordable lunches to more students and schools and do so with less waste and duplication.

What’s changed the most?

Rather than each school having an independent program with a different menu, group of volunteers etc. Inner City Youth Ministry runs Lunch Connection out of one central location with a set 2-week menu rotation. PALS volunteers graciously deliver all the lunches from the hub kitchen to the individual schools to distribute to children. We switched to a cold “snack-based” lunch which has reduced food waste and is a hit with the kids. We even began using homemade, colourful cloth lunch bags to reduce environmental impact! We have moved “homes” several times to support our growth and additions of new schools and year by year we find new ways to improve the program.

What is the same?

The heart and purpose behind Lunch Connection most of all! We are still all about feeding kids, reducing the stigma of food insecurity, and supporting our local youth, families and schools! We also love being a place where volunteers of all ages and interests gather and spend time giving back and connecting with and making friends.

It’s now been 4 years since schools closed down for the first time and we have learned a lot over the years about how to do this well (and we know there is lots more to learn!) We have gone from serving students at 3 schools to 1. We now have over 70 kitchen volunteers, a large group of PALS volunteers dedicated to getting the lunches to the schools, and behind-the-scenes volunteers doing laundry, sewing cloth bags, and fundraising. We are excited to see where we go from here!