Stong cafeteria is sandwich central for needy children

Every day until the end of August, close to 900 children will eat a lunch made at York in the Stong College cafeteria by a crew of Sodexho volunteers.

The packed lunches are made by employees of the food-services company that serves York, then delivered by the anti-hunger organization, Second Harvest, to 10 day camps across the Greater Toronto Area, including the San Romanoway camp in the Jane-Finch area, as part of Sodexho Foundation’s Feeding Our Future program.

Left: Jean-Francois Harvey (left) and Yvon Langlois

Though the program is now in its seventh year, it is the first year that the lunches for the children, who range in age from about 5 to 12, are being made at York.

York has become the sandwich-making hub for several reasons. “We had interest in the program from York University’s community relations office who had heard about our charitable foundation’s activities and wanted to work with us,” says Jon Kristjanson, vice president of Sodexho, which manages many food-service operations on campus. In addition, the program has grown to providing 30,000 meals in eight weeks, and the Stong cafeteria kitchen (which feeds almost 800 students from three residences during the academic year) has the capacity.

Getting to the Keele campus is a long trek for the Sodexho volunteers, who mostly work in the company’s head office in Burlington. But they say it is worth the effort.

“It’s such a good cause. So many kids are getting a nutritious lunch,” says Kristina Albion, the manager of benefits and pensions at Sodexho.

“The kids don’t see where the food comes from, but I’m sure they appreciate it,” says Jean-Francois Harvey, the company’s director of human resources for eastern Canada.

Right: Stong cafeteria manager Darrell Senyk (middle back), with Sodexho volunteers (from left) Sylvie Chamberland, Jean-Francois Harvey, Kristina Albion, Virginie Bronsard, Yvon Langlois and Mitch Dankner

Albion and Harvey were among the six volunteers, all from Sodexho’s human resources department, on the sandwich-making shift July 17. Yvon Langlois, Sodexho’s director of training and one of the regular volunteers, has been participating in the Feeding Our Future Program since its inaugural year.

“We typically make a variety of sandwiches and always offer a vegetarian option. For example, egg salad and tomato or hummus and cucumber, and we also pack vegetable sticks, drinks and pudding cups,” says Darrell Senyk, Stong cafeteria manager. Senyk does all the preparatory work, slicing hundreds of vegetables daily and getting the ingredients ready so the volunteers can start assembling as soon as they arrive.

The program was initiated in 2000 when the Sodexho Foundation learned that many of the children in the city who relied on free or subsidized school-lunch programs during the school year were going hungry during the summer, says Abby Robins, the communications manager at Second Harvest.

Left: St. Felix Centre day campers Samantha Botelho (left) and Julia Chavez try to master paddleball at the picnic yesterday at York

Yesterday, as a special treat for the children, Sodexho hosted a picnic at York on the grounds of the Arboretum. Thirty-seven kids from St. Felix Centre day camp came for the event, playing games, eating lunch and, as Robins put it, "enjoying a space that is different than the one they are usually in."

The cooperation between the Sodexho Foundation, Second Harvest and York is a critical factor in the successful delivery of the Feeding Our Future Program, says Kristjanson. “Obviously, we would like hunger to disappear,” he says. “But we are grateful to York University for allowing the production on-site, to our foundation for funding, to our employees for volunteering, and to Second Harvest for picking up and delivering the much-needed meals to the summer camps.”

By Olena Wawryshyn, York communications officer