Volunteers are the backbone of Nourish Cowichan’s successful program aimed at fighting child hunger. (Submitted)

Island Health grant enables Nourish Cowichan to extend reach

A $12,500 Community Wellness Grant from Island Health has enabled chef Fatima da Silva and Nourish Cowichan to expand their reach and feed even more of the Cowichan Valley’s hungry children.

Two years ago, Da Silva, Anita Carroll and Dina Holbrook founded Nourish Cowichan, a 100 per cent volunteer-run community organization aimed at filling the empty bellies of the more than 30 per cent of Cowichan area children who live below the poverty line. Initially focused on providing nutritious breakfasts to children attending several local elementary schools, the program has recently been expanded to support a daycare on Penelakut Island, the Arcadian Daycare in Duncan, and the Cowichan Maternity Clinic.

It’s a daunting task.

“You just do it. If you start thinking too much about it, nothing gets done,” Da Silva said. “It might seem complicated, but it still needs to be done. And I haven’t regretted a single second.”

Carroll and Da Silva both remember their feelings of dismay and helplessness when they heard stories of young children arriving at school hungry. That’s why twice a week, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, they gather to prepare and package a variety of breakfast offerings — everything from breakfast muffins, burritos and sandwiches, to waffles, biscuits, and fruit salad.

“The grant has allowed us to reach out to even more vulnerable children and their families,” said Carroll, a registered nurse and nurse educator. “Together, we are feeding them good, healthy food and ensuring they have proper nutrition so their little bodies and brains can be growing the way they are supposed to.”

Island Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Shannon Waters said the Community Wellness Grant Program “enhances existing or promotes new community programs, systems and networks that can positively influence health outcomes and create an environment where healthy choices are easier.”

Waters said Nourish Cowichan’s early years food security project “is an excellent example of how an organization is using the grant to create long-lasting positive impacts on the health and wellness of young children and expectant mothers.”

Every two weeks the manager of the Penelakut Daycare travels to Duncan to pick up enough food to be both eaten immediately and frozen for later use. Nourish provides an especially valuable service to Penelakut, as island residents do not have access to a grocery store. Nourish also delivers weekly to the Arcadian Daycare in Duncan, where executive director Nathan Sam says the food helps to augment the daycare’s existing lunch program, providing more than 30 young children with an even wider variety of healthy food choices.

“Having access to quality foods creates an easier day for children who are properly nourished, and better able to function while interacting with their peers,” said executive director Nathan Sam. “Beyond filling empty tummies, they work diligently to provide for so many children in the Cowichan Valley, to encourage their social and academic successes.”

Cowichan Maternity Clinic physician Dr. Maggie Watt said a number of her patients and their families struggle with poverty and food security issues.

“We know that early development is critical. It is so important to ensure that expectant moms and their children have access to nutritious food,” said Watt. “We see significant nutritional deficiencies in our patient population and anything we can do to counteract that is so valuable.”

While Da Silva and Carroll already devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to the Nourish Cowichan project, they are also working hard to ensure the program remains sustainable and to expand it even further.

“If a child is hungry, we will feed them. This is just the beginning,” said Carroll. “We have so many ideas — engaging kids in schools to teach them about food security, teaching them how to grow their own food and showing them how to process, cook and prepare it, and educating families in making better nutritional choices, regardless of the size of their budget. The list is endless.”

To learn more about Nourish Cowichan including how to donate or volunteer, visit www.nourishcowichan.ca

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