UrbanPromise Toronto is a non-profit organization that has been supporting youth, kids and families in Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) neighbourhoods since 1998. They offer year-round activities after school and during March break, as well as summer camps in two communities in Scarborough (Camp Truth and Camp Hope) and one in Etobicoke (Camp Victory). UrbanPromise is a partner of Second Harvest’s Feeding Our Future program.
Feeding Our Future provides lunch to free or subsidized summer camps across Toronto between July and August every year. The goal is to ensure that all children, especially those who rely on school food programming, have adequate access to nutritious meals during the summer months. Food insecurity is a pressing issue that’s closely connected to physical, mental and social well-being. According to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, children growing up in food-insecure households are more likely to use support services for mental health or substance abuse.
This year Feeding Our Future’s partners include Cadillac Fairview, Sofina Foods, Cummins, Air Miles, the Marner Assist Foundation, GreenShield Cares and Instacart. Working with our volunteers, we aim to pack and deliver about 40,000 lunches to over 1,500 campers. Each pack contains a meat or vegetarian sandwich, fruits, snacks and juices. The menu changes daily but stays consistent week over week.
A big part of the menu decision-making process is trying to work with ingredients that aren’t common allergens or dietary restrictions for different religious beliefs (for example, we use roast beef and turkey instead of pork). Lunches also include fresh fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumber in the sandwiches or “produce snack” (either an orange, an apple, or a pack of baby carrots).
Fruits are popular among UrbanPromise’s 120 summer campers, whose age range between 4 and 19 years old. Kids from 4 to 9 engage in crafts and sports (basketball and baseball). They also go on field trips to the ROM and Ontario Science Centre (in partnership with Kids Up Front), as well as have splash pad and indoor playground days. Meanwhile, high school-aged youth are coached in leadership.
“What we’re trying to push for is just creating a safe space for kids to have a community to grow academically and socially with their peers,” Jeffrey Ng, Ministry Supervisor at Camp Truth, said.
Ng has been with the organization for five and a half years, overseeing administration and mentoring youth. Many kids he worked with have become better at regulating their emotions, turning negative attention-seeking behaviour into appreciation and gratitude in their everyday life. “It’s the most impactful experience that I can always recall,” he said.
Indeed, 92% of parents and caregivers of children who participated in UrbanPromise’s programs have seen growth in their children’s communications and interactions with others, while 69% said their academic learning and work habits improved.
“It’s been a blessing to see that transformation and that there is a positive impact with [UrbanPromise] just being present in the neighbourhood,” Ng shared.
According to Ng, by showing genuine care and providing a judgement-free zone to explore different opportunities, UrbanPromise aims to break the poverty cycle and improve the outlook for many summer campers.
The ultimate goal, Ng said, is to allow them to “live with hope and freedom”.