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It takes a Community Crew to feed students in Thorold schools

The nonprofit provides free speciality lunches at Prince of Wales and Ontario Public School; 'Our program is designed to help those kids that fall in between the cracks'

For the past nine years, Community Crew has been feeding students all across the Region, including at Prince of Wales School in downtown Thorold. And just last week, the organization expanded their efforts to Ontario Public School in Thorold South.

What sets Community Crew apart from other school meal programs — such as those provided by Niagara Nutrition Partners — is that they accommodate over 20 specific dietary needs.

“Our program is designed to help those kids that fall in between the cracks,” says the not-for-profit’s director Stephen Cooper, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “For example, newcomers to Canada, they potentially need a halal requirement. Well that's not being met in some of the other nutrition programs. Another one would be gluten-free, or vegan, and there is a massive increase in lactose-free [lunches].”

Community Crew aims to provide free lunch three times a week. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, volunteers meet at the Grantham Optimist Youth Centre in St. Catharines to prepare the lunches that then go out to different schools across the Region.

“When you see it, you're amazed that we can pump out 4,500 lunches a week in these biodegradable containers that the schools can put out as part of their compost program,” says Cooper.

But Community Crew does so much more than providing a simple school lunch, he stresses.

“We have community notes that go into the lunches once a week, that are written from community people,” Cooper says. “It is another human being that says they're loved, and that there's another human being attached to this program that essentially cares and wants them to be who they were meant to be.”

To provide these notes, Community Crew has partnerships with other local organizations, such as Hotel Dieu Shaver.

“They have a rehabilitation program there,” says Cooper. “So let's just say, you had a stroke and now you're trying to reuse your hands and your arms, their rehab program is now encompassing a component of note writing.”

Cooper says that Community Crew is constantly looking to branch out and expand their efforts. Because the organization is not backed by the government or major donors, they depend on local businesses and individuals to keep their efforts going.

“There's currently a need at Prince of Wales [in Thorold] in particular,” says Cooper. “They’re at 45 lunches a day but they have probably another 20 or so kids that are next up for any funding we get. We're serving kids in your communities. If you want to connect and support the schools, we have the means of doing that."

Community Crew recently received donations from Thorold businesses RH Brows and Beauty and BeYOUtiful Hair Salon, and they also linked up with the Bagel Oven in Thorold South.

Cooper says that that’s what the organization is all about: strengthening the community through local partnerships.

“Most people, when they know it's kids in their own backyard and their own neighbourhood, it pulls at your heartstrings,” he says. “At the same time, it's really rewarding to see how many people are coming together to help these kids.”