Feeding Hungry Bodies and Minds

For Tamara Kelly and her 13-year-old daughter, Kyah Connell, the e4c School Nutrition Program has literally changed their lives. The program is presented by Edmonton Civic Employees Charitable Assistance Fund in all five of United Way’s All In for Youth schools.

Tamara Kelly welcomes students to the Spruce Avenue School kitchen

Tamara Kelly welcomes students to the Spruce Avenue School kitchen

Kyah went from struggling to get C’s and D’s to becoming a straight-A student who loves school.

As a single parent, Tamara found it hard to get Kyah to eat breakfast or pack a lunch before school. Then they signed up for the e4c School Nutrition Program at Delton Elementary, an All In For Youth school.

“It took a lot of anxiety out of things,” Tamara remembers. “Kyah knew that she could just get up in the morning and get ready and she didn’t have to worry about her lunch being yucky or somebody taking it. She knew that it was going to be a good lunch every day.”

That was reassuring for Tamara too. “I knew Kyah was getting a hearty sandwich rather than whatever I could send her, so that was a big help,” Tamara says. “I knew she was getting her fruits and veggies. That was huge for me as a parent.”

Tamara soon noticed a difference in Kyah’s behaviour and her grades.

“Kyah went from getting in trouble at school a lot, to in all of Grade 4, she never had to go to the office once,” Tamara says. “She was able to focus more on her studies rather than worrying about food.”

Getting ready for lunch

Getting ready for lunch

Tamara, who had experience working as a cook in hotel and restaurant chains, volunteered to help serve lunch at her daughter’s school. Eventually she was hired on as the e4c Nutrition Support Worker at Spruce Avenue Junior High, another All In For Youth school.

As Spruce Avenue’s “Lunch Lady”, Tamara feeds approximately 220 students every day, and also offers nutritious snacks such as fresh fruit and homemade trail mix throughout the day and after school. The program uses a “Fresh Food Model”, which means everything is as fresh as possible.

“We stay away from anything processed,” Tamara points out. “When we serve cheese slices, it’s actually cheese. It’s shredded mozzarella cheese or shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Everything is whole grain; we don’t serve white bread. Sandwiches are roast turkey, diced chicken breast, or roast beef. And the kids here love tuna.”

Tamara Kelly adding grated cheese to fresh turkey sandwiches

Tamara Kelly adding grated cheese to fresh turkey sandwiches

I can tell for some of the kids, this might be the only meal they eat in a day.

After getting injured in a car accident and being out of work for eight years, Tamara is thankful to have found her place in the Spruce Avenue kitchen.

“It’s helped me teach my own children the value of hard work,” she says. I’m showing them that even though you’re having a bit of a hard time and you don’t think you can do it, you really can and you just need to push through and have a positive attitude.”

“This work gives me purpose,” Tamara concludes. “I love it when students come up and hug me and say, “You know, that was the best lunch we had this week.” It just makes my heart grow.”

Tamara credits civic employees for making the e4c School Nutrition Program possible in All In For Youth schools.

“Thank you. You’re doing such a fantastic job in helping us to make sure that kids are nutritionally supported,” Tamara says. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you.”

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