A partnership that provides school lunches for kids in need, gives them a chance to socialize and roots them more strongly in the community.
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Nearly 30 years of partnership between Toujours ensemble and Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and Lévis-Sauvé schools
Founded in 1979, the community non-profit Toujours ensemble has been operating in Verdun since 1986. Its primary goal is to help Verdun kids aged 6 to 17 who struggle with academic, family, economic, or social problems to stay in school and offer them a healthier and safer environment.
« If you’re hungry, it’s not very conducive to learning. So yes, keeping kids in school is also about filling their bellies. »
For 27 years now, following the implementation of the government’s nutrition measure for disadvantaged areas (Mesure alimentaire en milieu défavorisé), Toujours ensemble has been preparing and offering low-cost school lunches for some 60 students in two local elementary schools – Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and Lévis-Sauvé. These children from less well-off families thus get one meal a day during the 180 days of the school year. “If you’re hungry, it’s not very conducive to learning. So yes, keeping kids in school is also about filling their bellies,” stresses Bineta Ba, executive director of Toujours ensemble.
François Millette, Bineta Ba and Natalie Gilbert (Photo : François Couture)
“The meals are delivered to the school by their own facilitators, which gives students an initial contact with the organization and a chance to hear about the services that they may eventually benefit from.”
Why do these schools go through a community organization rather than a caterer? “For many reasons,” explains François Millette, principal of Lévis-Sauvé elementary. “First, Toujours ensemble uses a nutritionist to create healthy, balanced meals. The organization’s staff also introduces our students to new types of food, such as tofu. So in a sense, Toujours ensemble is promoting food education too. They also offer a wonderful opportunity for young adults to work or reintegrate into society, which is something dear to my heart. And the meals are delivered to the school by their own facilitators, which gives students an initial contact with the organization and a chance to hear about the services that they may eventually benefit from. It’s clear to me that all this amounts to a huge added value.”
“It gives them a chance to socialize and change things up, and it roots them more strongly in the community.”
Natalie Gilbert, principal of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes elementary and a former teacher who worked with Toujours ensemble for many years, is also aware of the added value that comes out of the school-community partnership. “Our school is located literally a stone’s throw from the organization, so every day at noon, our students in the program leave together with a supervisor to eat their lunch at Toujours ensemble. It gives them a chance to socialize and change things up, and it roots them more strongly in the community. In fact, many of our students have later become facilitators for Toujours ensemble. We also have great lines of communication with Toujours ensemble. They always follow up if an incident happens at lunch or if a student has special needs.”
A long-lasting partnership
“It’s an absolutely essential service for us, because the needs here are so very great.”
“There’s been a lot of buzz around school perseverance in recent years. New programs are being established, and that’s wonderful. But I’m happy to say that we can talk about this old partnership with our two schools, established nearly 30 years ago and that has kind of flown under the radar, since it doesn’t attract much attention anymore. We have to work hard to make sure this initiative stays around, since it is itself a fantastic example of perseverance! It’s an absolutely essential service for us, because the needs here are so very great,” notes Ba.
_ June 2018
Over the coming months, Montreal Hooked on School will publish a series of articles about various fruitful partnerships between the education sector and community stakeholders promoting youth success.
We asked writer and photographer François Couture to go and meet the people involved in these partnerships and tell their stories.