With no in-person summer camps on the horizon in the first months of the pandemic, summerlunch+ redirected its work to create an at-home version to accompany TNO’s virtual camps. For the first time, St James Town would now be served by the program, out of the Paint Box Bistro in Regent Park. Families picked up grocery bags with ingredients necessary to prepare the featured meal of the week. With participation from Ryerson University students majoring in Nutrition and Food, the program featured an eight-week curriculum with a new set of recipes each week, as well as instructional videos posted on YouTube and on their website.
Susan shared with us that the program far surpassed the expectation of simply being a “stop-gap measure” for the pandemic. In fact, “we’ve discovered that this program has more legs than our previous program.” Not only does it provide meals to kids, making it a boost to families’ food security in this difficult time, but the kids are learning the skills to make these meals, and are “expanding their palates”, since even the pickier eaters are “more likely to eat food that they prepared themselves.” While several corporate donors of groceries, including Presidents’ Choice, have been crucial to the program since its inception, smaller local stores stepped up during the pandemic to fill some gaps. For Susan, increasing their local investment was another “plus” of the program.
Families and kids take note: summerlunch+’s delicious, nutritious, and affordable recipes are available on their website, along with the code to their Google classroom videos.
Prior to the pandemic, TNO Summer Camps had been attracting hundreds of participants in Thorncliffe Park and St. James Town (about 400 in summer 2019) with its daily activities and highly affordable cost of only $10/child. The camps were offered in two three-week sessions in July and August, in both co-ed and all-girls camps of various ages. They featured trips as well as varied activities, encompassing athletics, arts and crafts, swimming to survive, and leadership.
Darcy MacCallum, Director of Family and Wellness at TNO, explained why they decided to offer the camps online this past summer, in what they called Camp in a Box. “The Youth Team felt very strongly about facilitating summer camps, especially during the pandemic where programming opportunities are limited. Summer Camp is an amazing time for our participants to learn new skills and develop new connections with staff and peers. The youth team wanted to create a unique program, giving youth participants the chance to be engaged, even at home.”
He also described how they made the pivot, focusing on children aged 7 to 12. “Youth Staff continued to provide support and assistance to youth remotely, by facilitating Zoom programs and workshops, daily check-ins with youth via text messages, phone calls, social media and drop in video game sessions. We planned adjusted hours for the program hours as kids can only engage online for so long. Activities were coordinated and supplies purchased. Each registered family received a box with all the supplies for programs and food for snacks that each camper used at the same time while on the Zoom camp session.” The activities including workshops in gardening, karate, magic shows, story-writing, and yoga, and of course, the cooking classes in collaboration with summerlunch+. In all, 480 kids took part, with a higher proportion from St. James Town than in previous years thanks to the switch to online. Darcy foresees a need for future online programming, and they have a solid foundation to build on. Surveys from participants indicate that the TNO Summer Camps staff, children, and their parents were very pleased with the experience.