A program aimed at providing healthy food options for students to take home has proven to be a big success and the initiative has been rolled out to a number of schools in the city.

Weekends And More or WAM was created by the Calgary Food Bank and Calgary Board of Education to give school-aged children, who are food insecure, easy to prepare items to get them through the weekends.

“What we know is that many children, who are food insecure, end up going home on the weekend with no food in their house so that causes great problems not only for the family but also for learning. So working with the Calgary Board of Education, we brainstormed and came up with a couple of ideas, one of them conveniently was being used in Kansas City already so we reached out to them, found some great things that they were doing and then in partnership we put together our Weekends and More Program, providing children food that they can take home themselves for the weekend knowing that they have the food they need to continue to learn,” said James McAra, CEO Calgary Food Bank.

Students are identified and then signed up for the program by their teachers, counsellors or resource workers and so far the program is operating in six schools in the city.

“We asked the teachers, we asked the administrators, what would be the best way to enter a school and make sure that the kids have their food and this is one of the ways that they thought would have a better lasting impact for the kids over the weekend so that they weren’t being left hungry and then coming to school Monday with empty stomachs,” said McAra.  “For a child who has an empty stomach, their focus now becomes filling that stomach or just surviving until the point that they think they can get something to eat and often times that takes away from their learning opportunities. We don’t want that to happen. We know that a healthy diet and a balanced diet will contribute to well-being of the individuals and allow children to learn.’

The hampers are filled with kid-friendly food items that can be easily prepared and stored.

“We actually built it by listening to the kids, to the families and there are things that are kid-friendly and family-friendly so they’re items that can be easily eaten, there are items that don’t need special refrigeration or special preparation and it’s not junk food, it’s food that has a good protein, a good carbohydrate, a good mixture of pieces in there to allow the child to have the proper nutrition over the weekend. It won’t be everything but it will be something rather than just empty calories,” said McAra.

The food bank builds the hampers onsite so they can be delivered to the schools by Thursday and distributed to the children by the weekend.

“It’s a concert of people working together, between the donors, between the builders and our volunteers and the schools doing the distribution, that’s the way a community should work,” said McAra.

Esther Peltier is a teacher at Cecil Swanson School and started the breakfast program there.

“It is a passion of mine to teach and to know that my students are coming to class ready to learn and when you’re coming in hungry and these needs aren’t being met, well we’re not ready to learn, so having a program such as WAM alleviates some of this,” she said.

Peltier says the students are excited about the program and that there is a definite need for it at her school.

“It definitely shows a need for the program when students are asking for hampers on a Monday morning when they just had received it on a Thursday. They are looking forward to the food, they are looking forward to bringing it home and sharing it with their siblings,” said Peltier.

She says the WAM program helps students to stay on track and strive for and achieve academic success.

 “Now that we have WAM in our school, it’s forever changed the fabric and the culture of our school. It has created these relationships between staff and students that will forever be there.”

Four additional schools will be added to the program bringing the total to ten by the end of the year.

For more information on the WAM program, click HERE.