May 30, 2019 - 3:45pm
What began as a Vancouver Island University (VIU) Nursing Professor’s effort to introduce students to community nursing has evolved into a community-led project to nourish the minds of our future.
In 2013, Anita Carroll started taking her students into schools in the Cowichan Valley to gain practical community nursing experience.
“My background is working as a public health nurse and I wanted to instill in my students the wonderful opportunities there are in community nursing,” says Carroll.
Carroll took her first-year nursing practical class into schools to provide health teachings, give public health talks and make connections to create safe spaces for children to freely discuss healthy relationships, gender identity and any issues important to them.
“What we immediately noticed in the children is the difference in the mood and behaviour of those who came to school hungry and those who didn’t,” says Tracey Robins, a VIU Bachelor of Science in Nursing alumna and community nurse.
In the Cowichan Valley, the poverty rate is 30 per cent, meaning one in every three children are living in poverty and are likely not getting the nutrition their bodies need.
In her fourth year of studies, Robins and her classmates conducted a research project that interviewed teachers to gain insight on how to create a community-based initiative to feed the children. The result became what is now the Nourish Cowichan Society.
“Our schools are a reflection of our communities,” says Robyn Gray, Superintendent and CEO of the Cowichan Valley School District. “We recognize that poverty affects every school in our district, and BC as a whole. Poverty knows no bounds and does not discriminate. Nourish Cowichan is a collaborative, community-born solution to issues around poverty in the Cowichan Valley, and we are overjoyed with the support they continually give our learners.”
Carroll co-founded the non-profit organization with Dina Holbrook and Fatima Da Silva with the goal of nourishing children in the Cowichan Valley area. With the support of the Cowichan Valley School District, generous donations from the community and a team of volunteers, the organization began making meals in the kitchen of Da Silva’s restaurant, Vinoteca, which is located on Vigneti Zanatta Estate Winery.
“In February 2016, we did our first full week of providing breakfast for 60 - 80 children,” says Carroll.
In just two years, that number has grown exponentially. Nourish Cowichan now supports more than 750 children at 10 different elementary schools, three daycares and one maternity ward.
“By the time this story is out, we will be serving at least 800 children,” says Da Silva, co-founder of Nourish Cowichan. “I expect by September that number will have grown to 900 children.”
Although Nourish Cowichan’s capacity to support children is growing – thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals who donate their finances, time and resources – the need for this service is even greater. There are currently 300 children waiting for a meal in the mornings.
Nourish Cowichan quickly outgrew their location at the restaurant and expanded to École Mount Prevost Elementary School, where they converted a retired metal shop into a fully functional and licensed commercial kitchen. Nourish Cowichan is completely volunteer-run, with 65 volunteers in total and 12 regular kitchen helpers that donate their time twice a week to prepare meals, clean and organize the orders for the children.
Carroll says future aspirations for the space include creating a safe environment for parents in need to develop the skills to make healthy food choices for their families, learn kitchen skills and earn their food-safe to support them in gaining meaningful employment.
“When we are educated and informed about what is good nourishment for our body, we pass that down to our children,” says Robins. “By providing these meals to the children and teaching them about healthy choices, we decrease the health risks of people developing obesity and diabetes.”
Carroll says it’s important for people to recognize that there are families and children struggling in our neighborhoods and it is our responsibility as a community to support one another. With the rapid growth of Nourish Cowichan it seems the community understands that message and is taking action.
“The community has really come together to support these children,” she says. “I am constantly humbled and in awe by how willing people are to give to help nourish our community.”
“I never had to think twice about doing this,” says Da Silva. “There is an issue in our community, so let’s solve it. We have a great support network of volunteers here. If we don’t take care of our children – our future – who will?”
Rae-Anne Guenther, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University
Tags: Teaching and Learning