Family Food Program
When MLSE LaunchPad closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we shaped our response by connecting with our members and families to understand how the pandemic was impacting their lives. In May 2020, we learned through phone call check-ins with members and online needs assessments, that food security and access was an emerging concern with over 70% of families reporting losses in household income as a result of the pandemic, and over 50% of families worried about running out of food.
Speaking with community partners, we heard about meal services and food banks in the community running at the same capacity but with increased demands, and the suspension of community kitchen classes For MLSE LaunchPad, it was essential to ensure that any food supports we offered were delivered in a way that met the needs of the youth we serve, could be accessed safely, and continued to offer choice and autonomy in decision-making around household food.
“With both my husband and I working off schedules it's been difficult to find time to go grocery shopping and on top of that lines have been long. Having basic essentials like fruits and vegetables have had a tremendous impact for us. Our son doesn't wonder what’s to eat since the fridge isn't as empty as it was before.”
The Family Food Program launched in June 2020 in response, with a focus on supporting families to increase their access and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, while inspiring healthy cooking and eating at home. To accomplish this, we leveraged the expertise of our partner FoodShare, an organization that centres food justice in their approach while working to build long-term solutions in our food system. We also received the generous financial support of Scotiabank who signed on as a sponsor to the program.
Each of the 145 participating families received a $100 FoodShare gift voucher to purchase a biweekly Good Food Box. This was paired with a weekly email with recipe ideas and tips, and a weekly cooking lesson on Zoom led by Chef Victoria Zielinski, who leads the Nutrition Hub programs at MLSE LaunchPad.
“It increased my kids' exposures to new foods during a time when there are not many opportunities to do this easily (i.e. eating with extended family, visiting food events or other educational activities).”
The Good Food Box voucher was a major factor in reducing the financial barrier for some families to access quality fresh fruits and vegetables that would be other wise out of reach. The delivery of the Good Food Box sparked conversations with their children about healthy eating and meal planning and helped to build confidence in the kitchen. Families also told us that having the Good Food Box delivered to their doors was a comfort when they felt unsafe or were struggling to find the time to get to the grocery store.
Overall, we heard that families were eating more fruits and vegetables, focused on preparing higher quality food, and were more eager about trying a variety of foods in their meals. Some key achievements of the program over the summer were:
40% of families are experiencing greater food security since the start of the Family Food Program
19% are less worried about running out of food in the future.
93% of families say they feel more comfortable preparing meals or snacks with fruits and vegetables because of the Family Food Program.
Although many families are still finding it difficult to get fresh fruits and vegetables, the number of families reporting moderate to significant difficulty getting fruits and vegetables decreased from 75% pre-program to 50% post-program.
81% of families that attended the live cooking classes felt connected to other families during the classes.
“The program created discussions about meal planning and the new fruits or vegetables that have been introduced into our family.”
While we recognize that this program alone is limited in addressing the root causes of food security, we’re optimistic from the initial responses we’ve heard from parents and guardians that participating in the Family Food Program has the potential to create lasting changes in their families as it relates to healthy eating. It’s also why we choose to work alongside FoodShare and support their long-term work in the sector. Seeing the impact of engaging the whole family in cooking at home, we are continuing to run the program this Fall cycle. Using the lessons learned, we’re excited to extend MLSE LaunchPad’s work to promote healthy eating and physical activity outside our facility, and into members’ homes.
Thank you to our generous sponsors at Scotiabank for supporting the Family Food Program.
FoodShare’s Good Food Box is a fresh produce box that FoodShare has offered for over 30 years, provides in season produce, and supports FoodShare to animate community programs across Toronto.
This article was written by Sonya Silva, Manager of Engagement at MLSE LaunchPad.