#Lunchbag: Food for Thought

The kitchen table is covered with lunch bags, each with its own message: #smile, #not alone, #encourage. A team of 20 youth are stuffing the bags with sandwiches, bananas, and snacks. They’ve been here since early this morning, making stews and homemade jam to serve to the community.

On Sunday, January 29, these teens from the Don Montgomery Community Centre in Scarborough bussed down to Moss Park’s John Innes Community Centre for the Toronto #Lunchbag event. Hashtag Lunchbag events originated in the United States and involve groups of youth preparing bagged lunches together with handwritten positive notes and distributing to their local community.
This is the second year that the City of Toronto has held a #Lunchbag event. Azar Allas-vandi, Youth Program Coordinator with the City of Toronto says, “This year we were able to do it up really big because of our partnership with Second Harvest.”  Second Harvest’s involvement meant more food and fresher food.
Prior to the event, the group of youth planned out the lunches – they chose the ingredients off the Second Harvest truck, saying yes to fruits, banana bread, potatoes, and beef. They then trekked the food down to Moss Park from Scarborough and cooked together all morning.
The meals are filling: homemade beef stew, roast potatoes, fruit jam, banana bread, and over a hundred sandwiches. The youths pack the food into containers and paper bags, and take them outside in the cold to serve them to Moss Park’s homeless population.
Hot coffee is served inside while a DJ plays upbeat music. Onyx Barbers is giving out free haircuts, and Toronto Public Health offers information about free dental services.
This event allows youth to both give back to their community while also learning about nutritious meal preparation. Thanayah, 16, said that it was a “ton of work to prepare the food, but it’s worth it.” Her friend Shagufta, 15, added, “You know that [the lunches are] good and nutritious.”  Shagufta came today because she wanted to “give back to her community, and be [able to help] people suffering from homelessness.”
#Lunchbag is part of a larger program, Food for Thought, which the City of Toronto Enhanced Youth Servicesruns, offering food preparation lessons for youths. The lessons focus on learning nutritious and budget-friendly meals. Participants learn how to use a simple staple food ingredient in different ways. For example, at Don Montgomery, they had a session using Second Harvest eggs and learned how to make vegetable omelettes, scrambled egg sandwiches, and egg with stewed tomatoes.
Azar says, “our budget for our Enhanced Youth Spaces cover snacks, but [we wouldn’t] be able to run a really good program like Food for Thought city-wide without Second Harvest’s help.” Their partnership with Second Harvest allows them to access food they otherwise could not.
For Food for Thought, the youth are involved in every step of the meal preparation and planning. Azar explains, “With Second Harvest, we can go to our youth and  ask, ‘What do you guys want to pick off the truck?’ It’s a whole process, and it makes it hands-on and makes it fun for them.”