When 15-year-old Chelsea McCallum has a problem, she knows just what to do: she heads to the kitchen at Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA).
“When I have a problem they send me down here right away. It calms me. I talk to [kitchen manager Brenda Gingell]. And sometimes cooking with Brenda helps me feel happy, and she always makes me happy too,” Chelsea says.
ICYA is located on Salter Street in Winnipeg’s William Whyte neighbourhood. It offers after-school drop-ins and, through a partnership with St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, houses the St. Aidan’s Christian School. Healthy meals are a key component of programming for both school and drop-in; of the 185 kids that receive meals at ICYA on a weekly basis, 80 per cent don’t get enough to eat at home.
McCallum, who attends St. Aidan’s and has been coming to the drop-ins for years, says she visits with Gingell whenever she has a problem in class. She also helps Gingell prepare meals for the drop-in.
ICYA hosts a number of drop-ins each week, including preteen night on Thursdays. Dozens of kids from the neighbourhood flock to the drop-in centre to shoot hoops, climb the rock wall, play video games and foosball, create arts and crafts, and just hang out.
In stark comparison to the excitement of the drop-in centre, ICYA’s kitchen and dining room is a welcoming beacon of calm. It’s warm and intimate and smells of home-cooked roast chicken.
Small groups of kids sit at a few tables, quietly chatting with friends and volunteers as they eat their meal. According to ICYA’s director of development Laurie Kozak, the relaxed atmosphere is intentional.
“The whole premise of meals for kids is more than a meal. It’s basically to connect with the kids, get to know them better; they can share with us what is going on in their lives. It’s just to create that family-type atmosphere which is so important.”
Every single kid at ICYA gets a meal – and sometimes that’s the only one they’ll get that day.
“We know we’re not a third world country, but for some of the kids coming here, this is the only (balanced) meal they’re going to get,” Kozak says.
William Whyte is one of Winnipeg’s most crime-ridden areas, with a rate that’s triple or even quadruple that of many other neighbourhoods.
Nourishing Potential grants from The Winnipeg Foundation helped ICYA purchase a fridge and cooking equipment, and also ensures meals are well-rounded and include all of the food groups.
Kids are encouraged to volunteer in the kitchen.
“We help prepare food and help serve it all. It’s fun,” says 10-year-old Shay Harris, who has been coming to the drop-in for five years and helping in the kitchen for two.
For both McCallum and Harris, Gingell is a big reason for coming back week after week.
“I really love to cook so this is a great place to come to and cook with Brenda. Brenda is a nice person to hang around with, she’s like a mom to me,” says Harris.
Providing the kids with a healthy meal is incredibly important to Gingell, who has been managing the kitchen for three years.
“It’s healthy and nutritious, and a balanced diet,” she says of the food she prepares.
Gingell has become a whiz at hiding extra healthy ingredients in the meals she prepares. For example, she’ll put cranberries in spaghetti sauce and chili. Part of this is to ensure they can use the donated food they receive.
“I make do with everything,” she says with a smile.
Often she puts in 12 hour days – and loves every minute of it.
“It makes me feel happy and to me it makes me feel like I’ve done something. It makes me proud,” Gingell says of her work.
Working in ICYA’s kitchen has had a big impact on McCallum’s life.
“Before I hardly knew how to cook, now I know how. I want to be a cook when I grow up,” she says.
For more information about Inner City Youth Alive, visit www.icya.ca.
This summer, you can join Jonathan Toews – Nourishing Potential ambassador and donor – and help nourish the potential of Winnipeg kids. You can make a gift online, in person at the Foundation office or any branch of Assiniboine Credit Union or by texting GOAL to 45678.
Nourishing Potential provides grants so kids can access healthy food, nutrition education and cooking skills through after-school, drop-in and summer programs. The Nourishing Potential Fund, targeted to grow to a $5 million endowment, will ensure support for these types of programs is available forever. For more information about Nourishing Potential go to www.wpgfdn.org or call The Winnipeg Foundation at 204-944-9474.
This story was first published in Community News Commons on June 20, 2013.