Tanya Koshowski of Brown Bagging for Calgary's Kids talks about links to education, better mental health and avoiding the poverty cycle

Tanya Koshowski is executive director at Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids.

Tanya Koshowski

What is Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids and what does it do?

Koshowski: Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids (BB4CK) is a grassroots-focused and community-funded organization that works with people all over our city to feed kids who would otherwise go without a healthy lunch at school.

Every day, people all across the city work together to ensure that every student in Calgary has access to a healthy lunch at school. Right now, we’re aware of more than 4,000 kids who go to school without a healthy lunch each day – an increase of more than 1,000 kids (more than 30 per cent) in the last 12 months.

BB4CK feeds kids in kindergarten through Grade 12. Each child’s story and reason for needing lunches is unique and the recent economic downturn in Calgary has had a significant impact on families.

We anticipate that the need will continue to grow this year, both as the economy recovers and due to decreased availability of free breakfast programs in schools. Fortunately, the BB4CK community is in an excellent position to ensure that these kids receive lunch to give them the best opportunity to learn, grow and be the best they can be. To change the trajectory they may be on.

There are currently over 600 volunteers each week who care for these kids from kitchens spread throughout the city.

Our goal is to have no hungry kids in Calgary. Our vision is that communities make sure all kids are fed. Our mission is to connect and inspire people to take meaningful action to feed and care for kids.

Can you give me a sense of your reach in the community and how many children you impact?

Koshowski: Every day, more than 4,000 kids receive a lunch from BB4CK when they would otherwise go without. BB4CK works with over 220 schools all across the city.

We believe in community and everyone doing what they can to feed and care for these kids. This incredible community has more than 600 people, each week, who give their time to make and deliver lunches and care for kids.

Why is it important that children receive nutritious meals?

Koshowski: It’s vital for kids to receive a healthy lunch because without that they’re not able to focus and learn in class, build healthy self esteem and be their best selves. A child who doesn’t have a lunch also isn’t sitting with their friends at lunchtime; thus, they aren’t gaining those valuable social skills, and they very often don’t have the energy to even just be a kid and play at recess. This also leads to a lack of connection and we know that’s a key to mental health.

We heard a story from one teacher about a young boy, Josh, who was so lethargic in gym class that he couldn’t even throw a ball. When the teacher learned that he hadn’t had breakfast or lunch that day, and hadn’t eaten for a couple days, she moved quickly to ensure she got him some food. She then contacted BB4CK to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.

A community group was created to care for Josh and a couple other kids at the school. One day when the lunches arrived at the school, Josh ran up to the ladies delivering and said, “I am so happy my Brown Bagging lunch is here because I know it was made with love!”

When kids are cared for with the simple act of a lunch, they experience a sense of caring, connection and belonging. Together, these factors help these kids get their education, have better mental health and are able to stay out of a poverty cycle.

They are also more aware of their surroundings, and able to make connections with friends and participate in their communities. When kids aren’t hungry, they can build self-confidence, they can focus and learn, they can play, and they can grow to be the best they can be and contributing citizens.

How has the organization been impacted in the last couple of years from the struggling economy?

Koshowski: In the last few years, the number of kids in need of a healthy lunch at school has doubled – it’s no mystery that families are struggling, with parents laid off and the costs of healthy food increasing, and that’s reflected in the number of kids who come to school without a lunch.

At the same time, we know that the ability of our community to help has changed as well. 100 per cent of our budget comes from donations, and as people’s household budgets and corporate donation budgets change, so does the amount they can afford to help. As a result, many of our donors have had to shrink their donations, giving smaller amounts of what they can to help.

How can corporate Calgary help?

Koshowski: Companies in Calgary can help in lots of ways. Donations are one fantastic way; every dollar that is donated is used to provide lunches for hungry kids, and each lunch costs an average of $2 to make and deliver – so donations go a long way.

Engaging staff teams to make lunches, either in corporate offices or in our downtown kitchen, is also a very impactful way to help. Learn more at www.bb4ck.org.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business

calgary kids lunch

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