Nourishing Minds in the Town of Oakville

Nourishing Minds - Food for LifeYouth can’t thrive at school or home without good, healthy food. That’s why ensuring that young people have access to nutrition is a vital part of Food for Life’s mission. We’re proud to say that our food support programs have reached youth through collaborative partnerships with Frontline Outreach, Arthouse, Kerr Street, Boys and Girls Clubs, and many more.

One program for the youth we’re especially proud of is Nourishing Minds, piloted in partnership with the Town of Oakville’s Community Youth Basketball League. With no eligibility criteria, the league is available at no cost for young Oakville residents between the ages of 10 to 16. It’s designed to provide access to anybody who otherwise would experience barriers in participating. Food for Life provides healthy snack options for players to enjoy, plus a good food bag to take home, accompanied by a recipe that families can make together.

“Food for Life has been a fantastic partner. The work they’re doing is so special and they’re so accessible,” says Nabeel Rahman, Community Development Specialist at the Town of Oakville. “We want people to participate in our facilities and our community centres and our programming without feeling the need to identify whether they’re food insecure or not. The idea is that through basketball, through being in a community centre, you now have access to a potential meal that you can make from the ingredients that you have and there’s no identifying criteria.”

Nourishing Minds brings together health and wellness and recreation opportunities that are all about increasing access to the community. The good food bag, given after each Community Youth Basketball League session, is something kids look forward to. Coaches follow up every week, asking participants about their experiences preparing a meal with their families.

According to the Halton Poverty Roundtable’s 2018 Community Report, Oakville has the highest rate of poverty in the region, facing the widest gap between the very rich and very poor.

We want people to participate in our facilities and our community centres and our programming without feeling the need to identify whether they’re food insecure or not. The idea is that through basketball, through being in a community centre, you now have access to a potential meal that you can make from the ingredients that you have and there’s no identifying criteria.”

Nabeel Rahman

“Food insecurity in Halton is a solvable issue. If done effectively, social services in Halton can actually serve everyone,” says Daniel Ridsdale, Community Development Specialist at the Town of Oakville. He says food is often the first flexible expense to go when a family is struggling financially. “If things change in your life, it becomes really hard to sustain, and you end up needing Food for Life. You feel it in your belly first.”

“Food insecurity can affect anybody,” says Rahman, adding that Oakville residents have been especially vulnerable during the pandemic. “Oakville is an affluent community. Many families are doing really well. It often hides the fact that there are other families that rely on food banks.”

Food for Life has been integral in populating the basketball league, which serves about 100 kids per season.

“We go to Food for Life food distribution sessions. We meet families who have kids and get them signed up,” says Ridsdale. The Town of Oakville has also met youth volunteers at Food for Life that they’ve recruited as their coaches.

There’s also an education piece to Nourishing Minds. Graham Hill, Executive Director of Food for Life, visits the league, explaining the importance of good nutrition and accessing fresh food. “There’s an undertone with the families in the room that if they ever need anything, Food for Life is a good partner,” says Ridsdale.

Food for Life’s partnership with the Town of Oakville doesn’t end with Nourishing Minds. Food for Life has also provided food for an all-girls soccer league and it’s stocked a community fridge at one of the town’s community centres. Rahman adds that the Town of Oakville is even in talks with Food for Life to create a virtual show that talks about cooking with rescued food, leveraging ingredients that residents are accessing through Food for Life programs.

“If we’re going to allocate resources, like free programs and free services, toward low-income residents, when we work with Food for Life, we know that those who would most benefit will benefit,” says Ridsdale. “As partners, they’re open to anything!”

Like most cities, the Town of Oakville has faced challenges during COVID-19. Food for Life stepped up, using our distributions systems to help the Town send sports equipment to youth and wellness jars, with treats and games, to isolated seniors.

“There are very few community groups that actually have access to residents right now,” says Ridsdale. “Food for Life is one of the few avenues that actually are able to engage with residents. Thank goodness they already had that system already set up and they have such a strong network. It would be a lot of work for Halton and Oakville to build right now.”

The spirit of collaboration, not only between agencies but also between community members, is key to solving hunger in Oakville.

“The beautiful thing about living in an affluent community is the community can come together to provide the solutions to the challenges that residents experience,” says Rahman. Food for Life is proud to play an integral role in providing these solutions.

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