There’s nothing like a nutritious hot meal to give staff and students at Sidney Street School enough fuel for a busy day.
When that meal is Ed Dean’s chile con carne – something the Salvation Army Major prides himself on – then so much the better.
“It was really, really good,” enthused Rob Stewart, the principal.
Friday was the first day of the second run of the highly popular hot lunch program. A team of volunteers, under the direction of Major Ed, spent the morning cooking and packing 224 meals in environmentally friendly containers, determined to meet the noon delivery deadline.
Added to the bowl of chili were carrots, a bun, and special Halloween treats. Sometimes the occasion justifies a little bit of candy.
The program was launched in February by Sidney Street School and the Salvation Army, with the help of a one-off $17,000 grant from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and $4,000 from the 2020 virtual Santa Shuffle.
Stewart and Shelley Huck, Sidney vice-principal, had conceived the idea as a way of creating a sense of unity inside and outside the school, something seen as particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, there are also well-documented learning benefits to having a full stomach.
The program ran initially from February 5 to June 25, with hot meals delivered to the school every Friday for the 12-1pm lunch break. The Salvation Army changed the menus every week, ensuring plenty of variety, while the school got children’s feedback, trying to identify the most popular food.
All the time there were doubts about the long-term viability of the program given the huge expense involved, but hopes remained that its lifespan could be extended.
Last week those hopes were realized when The Salvation Army’s Community Response Unit pulled up outside the school shortly after noon, and Stewart, dressed in the red and blue of Mario, the video game plumber, came out to help carry boxes of meal inside.
For Major Ed, it marked a very successful start of the program’s second season.
He said the continuation of the program – which will see hot meals delivered once a month – was made possible by a partnership between The Salvation Army, Food Banks Canada, Chinook School Division, and the Downie Lake Hutterite Colony.
To give an idea of the expense involved, he said the bowls and lids alone cost $125.
Major Ed praised the volunteers who worked through the morning to prepare the meals. They included Cornelius and Heidi Beveridge, Phyllis Henderson, Eva Keller, and Dale Groves.
When the News-Times arrived at The Salvation Army after 11.30pm, the operation was in full swing. Trays of bowls containing chili were being wheeled from the kitchen to the hallway outside the chapel, where Henderson and Keller hastily put them into brown paper bags. Also bagged were the buns, carrots and candy.
Without giving away too many culinary secrets, Major Ed said 35 pounds of bison, and cans of bean and corn went into the meals. In addition, there were 15 pounds of vegetables.
Judging by Rob Stewart’s reaction, Major Ed has the chili recipe for success.