Some local students traded pens for potato peelers earlier this month to chef up and pack 200 holiday meals for those in need in the Orillia community.
For two days, cheery Christmas tunes rang out from the Twin Lakes Secondary School family studies classroom where Grade 9 students in the Partners in Education, Adventure and Community (PEAC) program prepared a meal of carrots, potatoes and ham in addition to a 'vegetable-forward' pasta primavera.
“Everyone was talking, everyone was working together so we were all getting into the spirit of Christmas. It was just a really fun two days,” says PEAC student Molly Hazel.
Student McKenna Carter-Dickie says she’s glad to be able to help out at a stressful time of year.
“It feels really good to know we helped that many people. It’s also kind of crazy - 200 people is a lot,” says Carter-Dickie.
The high school’s innovative PEAC program gives students the ability to be social innovators by teaching them about social issues and the project-building process through experiential learning.
Working with such motivated young people each day is a “privilege,” says teacher Chris Lowery.
“All these students (in) the program realize just how important their community is, not just their community at Twin Lakes but their Orillia community, or national or global communities. These are great citizens in the making," he explained.
The holiday meals initiative has become a staple of the ninth grade PEAC curriculum as everyone understands the necessity of food, says Lowery.
“All students from all ways of life can understand (food security) because it’s something very important in their life. They’re able to personalize it really well and get an understanding of the problem.”
The goal each year is to provide a good-quality, ready-to-eat meal to those in need.
The holidays meals initiative has run since the PEAC program started five years ago. By partnering with The Sharing Place Food Centre for the first time this year, the team upped their target from 50 to 100 meals - which the class still managed to double.
The Sharing Place’s new Meals-4-Change program prepares ready-to-eat dinners regularly and opted to match the PEAC teams’ recipes that week, promoting some “healthy competition,” according to Nancy Hannah, the facility's community programs supervisor.
The class worked in small groups, each preparing one part of that day’s meal. That assembly-line style helped the team to “maximize efficiency” and finish cooking well before class ended each day, according to Owen Bolger.
After receiving grant money from the school board’s Experiential Learning Grant Fund, Lowery reached out to The Sharing Place to see how they could best stretch their dollars to make as many meals as possible.
The Sharing Place helped generate recipes that filled both the community’s needs and the PEAC class’ goals of supplying meals that were freezable, easy-to-reheat and included a vegetarian option.
The meals were delivered to The Sharing Place after being offered first to Twin Lakes students.
“It was really a great natural partnership, we were able to share some of our food resources with them to keep their cost low which meant they could have a larger output of food and reach more people,” says Hannah.
Calculated out, each portioned meal cost 75 cents to make and package, according to Hannah. She says knowing how to maximize resources helps students as future leaders, but also is a great life skill - especially as the cost of food continues to rise.
Canada’s Food Price Report 2022 forecasts a 5 to 7 per cent rise in the cost of groceries overall - the largest yearly jump the report has predicted in their 12-year history.
Given the paycheques of food insecure Simcoe County residents are already stretched thin, “there’s a lot of people that don’t have an extra hundred dollars a month,” Hannah says.
The Sharing Place opened 87 new client profiles in October of this year and another 120 in November, up from the per-month average of 58 new profiles opened from January to September of this year.
Hannah says she hopes the PEAC class realizes the impact of their hard work, as their efforts helped many people to put dinner on the table this Christmas season.