Feed Our Future and Mise en Place need help
Hunger is a growing problem with Cayman’s youth and two groups – one a registered charity and the other a food catering business providing lunches to some schools – are doing what they can to make sure school children are getting at a healthy and substantial meal in school.
Sean Collins of Mise en Place, which is the contracted caterer at four government schools, started seeing last year that some children were going hungry at lunch.
“We were witnessing it every day and seeing that some kids were not being fed because they didn’t qualify for assistance from Children and Family Services,” he said.
When Mise en Place staff noticed some children weren’t eating, the company started giving away lunches to some of the children, absorbing the costs itself.
Then in May of this year, Mr. Collins noticed an article in The Caymanian Compass that said the government was going to cutback on some of its budget items, which included the number of children who could receive assistance through the school lunch programme.
Mr. Collins then launched an initiative to find some private organisations and companies willing to sponsor some of the children’s lunches, which cost $5 each. For every $5 these companies donated, Mise en Place matched it with $1, the cost of the drink that accompanies the lunch. Recently, both Digicel and Butterfield Bank came on board as corporate sponsors of the Mise en Place initiative, Mr. Collins said.
Because Mise en Place is involved in catering to John Gray High School, Red Bay Primary, George Town Primary and the Lighthouse School, it can actively manage its programme. It gives pre-paid lunch tickets to the principals of the schools, who can identify children who need them. About half of the stockpile of pre-paid lunch tickets go to John Gray High School, with 25 per cent going to George Town Primary and another 25 per cent to Red Bay Primary and the Lighthouse School combined, Mr. Collins said.
Although the government budget cuts didn’t impact the school lunch programme as significantly as Mr. Collins feared, he said there is still a need because some children, for a variety of reasons, aren’t getting assistance from the government. In many cases, it’s simply a case that their parents haven’t asked for assistance, either because of pride or because they just haven’t found the time.
Feed our Future
Although Mise en Place has been able to make a difference in the schools to which it provides catering service, there is still a need in those schools and the 13 other government schools in the Cayman Islands. In addition, there are some school children in private schools who also come from food insecure homes.
Another group called Feed our Future was formed in June to try to address the problem.
The not-for-profit charity association has made its sole mission to provide needy children with school meals. Made up of a dynamic group of young Caymanian professionals, Feed our Future is already making a huge impact on the lives of some children in Cayman, said the charity’s founder, Stacey VanDevelde.
“Every child needs nutritious food. If children do not eat they cannot learn, they cannot behave to expectation, they will not remain healthy,” she said. “A hungry child is at risk. It is that simple.”
Feed our Future’s initial board also consists of Anna Goubault, Frank Balderamos, Jr., Simone Ross, Wanda Ebanks, Anthony Lawson and Kyle McLean.
The foundation has already established partnerships with five government schools and one private school by funding nutritionally balanced schools meals to needy children who qualify.
Through its fundraising events and donations made by a number of corporate sponsors and private citizens, Feed our Future has been able to raise significant funds. Recently, the group got a boost when dms Organisation Ltd. appealed internally to employees from affiliate and subsidiary companies and raised $3,000 in one day for Feed our Future. Mindy Kimball, chairperson of DMS Gives Back Committee, said the entire organisation pulled together for the fundraising effort.
“DMS is committed to a sustainable future and recognises this vision of the future begins with our children,” she said. “Feed our Future is an organisation which is devoted to the same vision and we were really pleased to contribute to their mission to provide holistic nourishment to children in need in the Cayman Islands.”
With that and other donations, Feed our Future has already been able to reach its goal for this school year of funding school lunches for 100 children. They also have been able to offer funding to replenish snacks and food items for students in the John Gray High School Behaviour Intervention Unit.
John Gray High School Behaviour Specialist Steve Morris said the support from Feed our Future was helping remove one of the barriers to learning, the lack of timely and proper nutrition.
“There are some students who would go hungry the entire school day without the assistance of our meal programme,” he said. “By feeding their bodies we are hopefully opening their minds to learning. You can see by the look on their faces after they have eaten that they will be having a much higher quality day than they would have without the food.”
Vickie Frederick-Best, principal at Red Bay Primary School, said students constantly sent to school without food and snacks have been an ongoing concern for her staff.
“Studies show that children who receive proper nourishment perform better on cognitive tests and in school,” she said. “The brain is like a car. A car needs petrol to move and our brain needs food to function properly. Feed our Future foundation has been quite proactive and instrumental in responding to the needs of these children crying out for something to eat. We are truly appreciative and grateful for the foundation in touching and making a difference in the lives of these students.”
Because of economic conditions, Mrs. VanDevelde said there are a growing number of students relying on subsidised or free school meals.
“For many, this is the only meal they will receive,” she said. “Whilst we recognise that it is the child’s parent or caretaker’s primary responsibility to feed and be the guardians of their healthy growth and development, it is also increasingly apparent, in particular in today’s economic climate, that a lack of money and time prevent many parents from doing so in an effective manner.”
Mrs. VanDevelde said awareness of the issue of childhood hunger in Cayman is a big obstacle because the problem isn’t easily seen.
“To discount these issues comes at a greater cost to society, in that the cost of early intervention that would improve mental and physical health would be modest compared to related costs associated with poor nutrition or lack of learning potential and future contributions to society,” she said.