On Jan. 4, Food4Kids Waterloo Region announced the appointment of Lorri Detta as their new executive director. Detta joins the charitable organization after serving in leadership roles at several other local charities, including Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region and KW Habilitation.
Detta is replacing Kelly-Sue Oberle, founder and former executive director, who is retiring from the organization. Food4Kids Waterloo Region was founded in 2016 with a mission to provide nutritious food for school-aged children on weekends and longer breaks when in-school nutrition programs aren’t available.
Working at an organization with a mission like Food4Kids Waterloo Region has been a career and life goal for Detta.
“I’ve always been working towards working with an organization like Food4Kids. I know that children can be successful if they have a community around them. That’s what Food4Kids is. It’s that community that makes children successful in their lives,” Detta said.
Food4Kids provides food for over 860 students across 50 schools in Waterloo Region. They offer weekend and break programs that provide nutritious food to students. Volunteers pack and deliver the food packages to the students’ schools, where school staff distribute the food without any stigma.
Food4Kids receives funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, corporate partners, and individual donations. Detta said she hopes the organization can continue to grow those relationships to support more students in the community.
“This year we have a goal to serve 1,000 kids—and the need is there. We have a waitlist with 146 kids and that’s only in the schools we serve. We really count on our donors to help deliver leadership in our community,” Detta said.
The instability of the COVID-19 pandemic has given the organization several challenges—from protecting volunteers during packing nights, to finding ways to distribute after students switched to online learning.
The Food4Kids team took the Jan. 3 announcement of an additional period of online learning as another opportunity to adapt to pandemic speed bumps.
“We didn’t know if we were going to schools or if we were delivering to student homes until the announcement that morning. But our program coordinator was able to work with our volunteers to make it work,” Detta said.
Jennifer Birnstihl, marketing and fundraising coordinator at Food4Kids, said that the team’s experience from the last two years meant they were not taken by surprise.
“We have all these scenarios now that we have to be ready for—and we were ready. It’s a well-oiled machine, and we have amazing volunteers who just jumped at the opportunity to help us,” Birnstihl added.
Rising food prices and supply chain issues are another cause of concern for Food4Kids. Birnstihl said that the last year has presented numerous challenges in getting the food they need.
“There’s been weeks where grocery stores that used to work with us on pricing now can’t help—they’re not able to do that now,” Birnstihl said.
During the pandemic, the switches to online learning caused many parents to scramble for devices like Chromebooks or to secure childcare if they needed to work outside of their homes. For the children that Food4Kids serves, a lack of access to nutritious food is an added source of anxiety.
According to a report from Stats Canada in 2020, one in seven Canadians were living in a food-insecure household. Canada is the only G7 member that does not have a national school food program. Similar programs in other nations offer students nutritious meals for breakfast and lunch at their schools for a reduced cost or free for those in need.
Detta said that while she hopes that provincial and federal leaders will create a national school food program, Food4Kids will continue its local efforts to help children in need.
“We’re grassroots. We’re just trying to meet the need day to day. Food is very important for their intellectual and physical development and their overall well-being. That very simple need of food should be satisfied,” Detta said.