When do we reach our 50% level? Soon said Torsney, soon. Dig deeper today and we could be there tomorrow.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  December 1, 2012   The United Way campaign for Burlington and Greater Hamilton has reached that first wonderful number of 50% – at least for those on the other side of the Bay.  Half way is a nice place to be with any objective and the Hamilton crew is doing very well.

Burlington does have a bit of catch up to do – they are at 50 % of their $2.1 million target.

Combined Burlington and Hamilton are at 50% of the 2012 goal of $7.1 million.

Paddy Torsney assures us that the lower Burlington number is due to the slower start of the campaigns at some companies – “start later/numbers come in later”, commented Torsney who is more than confident that the Burlington target will not only be reached but exceeded.

Torsney plans to exceed the $2.1 million that was to come from the Burlington community.  That is going to mean an extra push but if the Christmas decorations on Burlington homes are any indication as to where the economy is going – then there are dollars in those pockets that could make their way to the United Way.

Chair of the Burlington side of the Burlington/Greater Hamilton United Way campaign Paddy Torsney frowns when she sees the total for Burlington’s $2.1 target being at just the 50% point. She wants to exceed her target.

“We are seeing an increased demand for services that is putting incredible pressure on our programs,” said the Hon. Paddy Torsney, 2012 Burlington United Way Campaign Chair. “Many of these programs rely on United Way funding, which means now more than ever we need our citizens to step forward and support the United Way campaign. We have people in this community facing homelessness, children going to school hungry, seniors in isolation and families in crisis. If individuals and businesses in Burlington and Hamilton donate today, we can reach our goal and we can provide the vital funding necessary to help people in-need, right here in our community.”

There is still time to donate and it has never been easier. Visit the United Way website where you can donate online, or contact the United Way by phone (905-527-4543 or 905-635-3138) if you would like more information on donating in person, through your workplace or at the leadership level.

The funds raised by the United Way of Burlington & Greater Hamilton support 131 programs and services in the community, assisting seniors, individuals, families and children in-need – many of whom live below the poverty line.

Bringing the money in is a large part of the job; figuring out where it should go is another part of what United Way does.  The organization itself doesn’t run programs – it funds agencies that run program in each community.

One of the more innovative programs that has been around for some time is the Halton Food for Thought program It has been operational for more than 15 years.  Their focus is ensuring that students in school do not go hungry.

Ask anyone who works for or volunteers with an organization committed to helping feed those in need and they will tell you the same thing: people simply don’t realize the level of poverty and hunger in Halton Region, and even if they do, they don’t appreciate how many children are affected.

Ask Gayle Cruickshank, Executive Director of Halton Food for Thought, if there is a hunger issue with children and she’ll let the statistics speak for themselves: Halton Food for Thought runs 146 food programs at 104 different schools; there are 16,000 students in need; and they serve two million meals every school year. Depending on the neighbourhood, somewhere between five and twenty-five per cent  of children go to school hungry.

With that enormous challenge at hand, Cruickshank is extremely grateful to the many partnerships she has developed, including a very important one with ReFresh Foods and Food for Life.

We talked with Gayle Cruikshank a few days before her AGM and got some of the background on just what Food for Thought does and how it interacts with the United Way.  Food for Thought is one of the many not-for-profit organizations that receives funding from the United Way. They receive just 11% of their funding from threeUnitedWays. Or if you want just Burlington it is 7%

Getting a number of Food Trucks to congregate in the one place was a really brilliant idea that Food for Thoughtusedto raise funds with other agencies for the United Way

Getting a number of Food Trucks to congregate in the one place was a really brilliant idea that Food for Thought used to raise funds but also to tell the United Way story.

They have to raise the rest of the money themselves which at times means getting creative.  Cruikshank came up with the idea of arranging for a number of Food Trucks to congregate at the one location in the commercial/industrial part of the city where there are few places to get a quick lunch. She convinced the Cup cake Diner, Gorilla Cheese and HankDaddy BBQ to show at a parking lot on Harvester Road outside the Burlington United Way office. .  To everyone’s surprise and delight – the Cup cake truck sold out in less than half an hour while the other two had line up sixty people long.  Expect to see more of that kind of fund raising next year.   Food for Thought raised $800 with the one Food Truck event; enough to feed  five students for one year.

While ensuring that a student is properly fed is vital – it’s a bit more than just feeding them.  It’s an opportunity to teach students solid nutritional lessons and to form up the link between the Public Health nurses and the social workers.

While ensuring that a student is properly fed is vital – it’s a bit more than just feeding them.  It’s an opportunity to teach students solid nutritional lessons and to form up the link between the Public Health nurses and the social workers.

Students that aren’t eating properly usually have social and or health issues.  Add to that. The shame that some feel when they need help getting by.  These students often live in assisted housing and have just the one parent in the house.  The pattern is the same time and again.  Hard for the student and depressing for the Food for Thought volunteers because they know the cycle can be broken.

Gayle Cruikshank got her first look at Food for Thought in 1997

Cruikshank’s first look at Food for Thought was when she attended an event at her daughter’s elementary school in 1997 when Darlene Edmonds was running the program.  It didn’t take long for something to happen: Cruikshank was invited to sit on an Advisory Board and that led to her taking over the running of the organization when Edmonds moved on in 2001.

The focus then, and still very much the focus now was to ensure that every student was eating nutritious meals every school day.  The link between decently fed students and good grades plus good social behaviour is what justifies everything Cruikshank and those running the Food for Thought program do each day.

It costs about $180 per student per school year to ensure they are fed through a healthy breakfast.

At their AGM, held at Robert Bateman high school where Murray Zehr did the honours and got things set up. The Food for Thought team was on hand which included: Carrie Baillie, Oakville Program Manager; Julie Bertoia, Burlington Program Manager; Chantal Ingram, Director of Programs; Maureen McLaughlin, Halton North Program Manager; Maria Moutsatsos, Edible Garden Coordinator and Kelly Stronach, Manager of Program Development

Kelly Stronach , Manager of Program Development works closely with Gayle Cruikshank, Executive Director of the not for profit Food for Thought.

During 2012 the organization started ten new programs while 17 schools increased service days to ensure students had access to healthy foods every day.  They expanded their Farm to school program to 13 schools involved and started five new edible school gardens. It was a busy year.

“G”, a student who participates in the meal card program sent in her thanks for the help she gets. Properly fed she has seen an improvement in her concentration and thus her academic performance. She will graduate with enough credits to continue her education.

“M” also sent his thanks.  His teacher had said there were behavioural issues. “M” used to go home for lunch often eating only a pop tart. Since the healthy snack program started he has been enjoying the healthy food and behaving much better. He now stays at school for lunch instead of eating at home alone, his social skills have also improved.

A 16 year old student who had been referred to the social worker at high school for continually  skipping classes and at times missing full days of school. The social worker discovered that he was parented by a single mom, lives in low income housing, and was diagnosed ADHD and depression. After much discussion about future goals the student and the social worker talked about engaging him in a co-op placement to gain work experience.

The student was given meal cards to ensure he was having at least one meal a day. When asked to fill in the career ideas booklet he placed very high in create arts and because he enjoys food so much he did the coop in the school cafeteria which he enjoyed immensely. He attended this placement daily without fail and was seen in the cafeteria preparing delicious lunches for students and staff. He has applied to the Culinary Skills, Chef Training – at George Brown College.

Gayle Cruikshank, Executive Director, seated and Kelly Stronach, Manager of Program Development: two of the seven member team that make Food for Thought work day in and day out as one of the United Way funded agencies in Burlington.

These are just three stories from the hundreds of schools involved; these are stories of United Way funds supporting local agencies deliver support where it is needed.

This is an organization that serves us all and especially those students who don’t have the support most of us grew up with.  Gayle Cruikshank and her team of volunteers do that work on your behalf – let’s continue to make sure they have the funds they need – at this point Burlington is at the  half way point to a very modest goal.

The theme the United Way works under is: Change Starts Here.  That could be your loose change; see what you’ve got in your pocket right now and commit to giving that each week throughout the year.

Beth Deazeley, Neil Oliver, and Patty Pelekis joined the Food for Thought Board of Directors this year for two year terms.  They join Maria Nancy Thornton, Chair; Cheri Chevalier, Vice Chair; Nicki Glowacki, Treasurer; Margaret Maronese, Chris McNamara, Jessica MacKay, Reg Farnand and Phil Simeon.


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