“I love young children and I have a passion for nutrition,” says Val Wright, explaining why she volunteers as coordinator of the Breakfast Club for Learning at Giant’s Head Elementary School in Summerland.
A former child care counsellor in Vancouver, Val assumed her duties in 2003, seven years after she, her husband and two children moved to Summerland.
“The program started in 2001 with the goal of providing breakfast for hungry children,” Val says.
Under her leadership the program has expanded to include children from a spectrum of income levels and backgrounds.
“I never ask why the children come,” she says.
This immediate past school year, Val and her team of volunteers served 10,800 breakfasts prepared in a small kitchen at the school.
A Grade 5 student aptly named it “The Wonder Kitchen.” The wonderful things that happen there start with tasty meals and learning healthy eating habits.
“The children help to make the menu for the following week—everything from pancakes and quesadillas to hamlets (eggs with bits of ham cooked in a muffin tin),” Val says.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are always on the table.
The children can take healthy snacks with them to eat later.
The Wonder Kitchen is a safe place where children can make friends, learn to interact with adults and talk about things that matter to them—the death of a grandparent, difficulties in the school yard.
The kitchen has some ground rules—good table manners, good hygiene and consideration for others.
Reflecting on the club’s activities, Val says, “I’m only the tip of the umbrella of an amazing group of volunteers.”
“It’s fun,” says long-time volunteer Maureen Scholes, whose husband the children call Mr. Smoothie because he makes the breakfast smoothies once a week.
“It’s important for volunteers to realize they are role models,” she says.
“Children are like little sponges. They soak up everything they see and hear,” Val says.
In 13 years, Val has increased operating funds from a few dozen dollars to an annual budget of around $8,500, which she stretches to the last penny.
“This is an amazing community,” she says, referring to club sponsors, which include businesses, service groups and individuals in Summerland and Penticton.
Many Nester Market customers donate their in-store points and True Grain Bread gives Val its day old baked goods.
“If cheese isn’t on special that week, we don’t buy it,” she says.
In season, Val picks fruit and freezes it for use during the school year.
Val recalls a few years ago when a young immigrant boy struggling with the language arrived at the kitchen door with his parents.
After introducing herself, Val heard a Canadian boy behind her say, “Mrs. Wright, let him sit beside me. I’ll show him around.”
“That’s what it’s all about,” Val says.