Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington helps local families shine bright during hard year

GUELPH – This year has been difficult to say the least, and the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington has seen some of the difficult impacts this global pandemic has had on local children and youth.

From students not having access to healthy food in the absence of in-class schooling, to summer camps and recreational activities being cancelled, children and youth have been affected more than most realize.

“It all began late in March when we started to see that kids were not going back to school anytime soon,” said Anita Macfarlane, program director for the foundation’s Food and Friends program.

“This led us to think about the thousands of students who rely on their school’s student nutrition programs as their only source of nutritious food.

“Those children weren’t going to have access to healthy food while schooling at home, and we wanted to do something about it.”

The foundation teamed up with local grocery stores, food banks, and other local organizations to create a temporary emergency support initiative called Fresh Food for Kids.

This initiative ran for 23 weeks, from the end of March until the end of August, supporting over 1,300 children per week, and delivering almost 100,000 meals to children and youth in Dufferin County, Wellington County, and Guelph.

Once schools began to reopen in September, the foundation transitioned into a similar initiative called Food and Friends at Home.

This provided support for children still schooling from home, and for schools that were unable to support student nutrition programs inside their facilities.

The summer of 2020 saw cancellations of summer camps and recreational activities, a usual support for families during the summer for child care purposes, and a key social and mental development outlet for children.

The foundation funds recreation activities through its Free to Grow Program.

“Once again, we saw a need, and we jumped at the opportunity to continue to support these children,” said Karyn Kirkwood, program director of the Free to Grow program.

“We decided to bring sports and crafts home to kids in need by developing Free to Grow at Home kits. These kits were filled with different items to keep kids thinking, creating and moving while they were at home this summer.”

The foundation received 935 requests.

Once again working with local businesses, and through donor support, the foundation fulfilled all of the requests for these kits.

They kept their purchasing local, putting over $48,000 back into the local economy and supporting local businesses.

“The disruption of part-time and summer employment had pushed the hope of post-secondary education beyond reach for students who are already working hard to overcome financial hardship while finishing high school,” officials say.

In order to present graduates with scholarships, the foundation sent out a call to action and received much needed support to augment its scholarship program.

Nearing the end of 2020, the foundation had to adjust the yearly Adopt-A-Family program. This program saw a spike in family requests, as well as an initial drop in donor support.

“We decided to change our Adopt-A-Family program to be a gift card only model for 2020 for the safety of our staff, volunteers, and all families involved in the program,” said Emma Rogers, CEO of the Children’s Foundation.

“It was a tough decision, but one we felt was best for everyone.

“At first it seemed like it was going to be a tough few months, as we saw a drastic spike in the amount of families referred to the program, and understandably we weren’t seeing the same donor dollars coming in the door. We were worried that we weren’t going to be able to support all the families.”

As of Nov. 23, the Foundation had over 200 families waiting to be adopted.

But through the support of Magic 106.1FM’s Live to Air, by Nov. 25 the foundation found sponsors for over 1,400 families.

“We were overjoyed, and so incredibly grateful for the community support we received this year,” said Mandy Schnurr, director of community engagement.

“We understood that for donors this year, a lot of them didn’t feel the same Christmas magic purchasing gift cards instead of gifts – but, we learned that the gift card model was actually empowering our referred families. It gave them a sense of ownership over picking out that pair of shoes, or that teddy bear for their children.

“We are so happy that they get to feel that sense of pride on Christmas morning, knowing that they had a hand in providing the gifts for their family this year.”

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