Debbie Zuback is accustomed to helping coordinate the student nutrition program for upwards of 5,500 hundred children each day across Thunder Bay and the surrounding communities. She’s following in her father’s footsteps. He ran the nutrition program at her children’s school for several years until failing health prevented him from continuing on.
She’ll admit COVID-19 has required the team at the Red Cross Thunder Bay office to adapt many aspects of their operations , but none that will prevent her or her colleagues from helping hungry kids in the community.
Alongside community-based organizations including Northwest Community Health Centre, they are helping to feed students from 80 to 90 schools in the region. Prior to COVID-19, students were accessing a nutritious breakfast or morning snack at their local school student nutrition program. The void created by school and program closures is significant, especially for some families that lack transportation or childcare necessary to access a food hamper.
“We have one goal. Help every hungry child in need,” says Zuback who’s quick to mention the work of Roots to Harvest and Norwest Community Partnership. Both organizations are taking lead roles preparing and distributing hampers to students across 7 sites in the city and additional high-risk communities for the past 8 weeks.
This week a record 450 hampers filled with shelf-stable milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, oatmeal, grains and breads were available. A science kit also made its way into some hampers, offering students an opportunity to keep up with their studies while at home.
“I’m born and raised here. I have close ties to the grocers who help raise funds for school programs years long through the Toonies for Tummies campaign. The Safeway and Metro gift cards provided through the Grocery Foundation will allow us to look after our community when they need it most,” says Zuback. The Grocery Foundation has also provided the Red Cross with vouchers enabling them to include granola bars, fruit and veggies and yogurt in the hampers.
When asked about the future Zuback notes, “We will do what it takes including making sure those who need help know how to access it. We’re thankful to have the food donations, gift cards and volunteers to help keep the kids safe and nourished.”