CHEP expands its original mandate to meet expanding needs of community

February 18, 2020

Rita Stalker is shown preparing food for students at the CHEP centralized kitchen. CHEP bulk-buys fresh produce and dairy for Saskatoon school food programs and annually delivers more than 22,000 brown bag lunches in the city.

Having celebrated its 30th year of existence in Saskatoon last year, CHEP Good Food Inc. is a classic example of the old adage that out of something bad, something good can happen.

Interim Executive Director Jean Goerzen indicated the organization came into being as a response to children coming to school hungry. According to the CHEP website, the catalyst for its formation was when a child fainted at a Saskatoon school due to a lack of food.

Although the one constant from the very start has been the strong base of volunteers, (Goerzen indicated there are currently 100 active, committed volunteers) the actual mandate of the organization has expanded exponentially. This includes not only a school presence, but now also encompasses a variety of programs that focus on helping provide access to fresh food, budgeting and cooking skills, nutritional education and support for the city’s vast community garden network.

An important part of the overall strategy is bulk buying and passing the savings on to the clients. CHEP bulk-buys fresh produce and dairy for Saskatoon school food programs and annually delivers more than 22,000 nutritious brown bag lunches to schools utilizing the facilities at the central kitchen located at North Park Wilson School. CHEP also offers the Chefs in Training program for schoolchildren to learn kitchen and food safety and cooking skills.

“Food insecurity is a reality and we need to address it. There is a huge need for the establishment of a universal school-food program to level the playing field,” Goerzen said, adding that “I believe a lot of parents would welcome the idea.”

Goerzen is buoyed by the announced commitment of the federal government to prioritize a national school food program.

“It’s just not acceptable in this country that we have kids going to school hungry and awareness needs to be raised. The whole area of nutrition for kids has a huge impact, and research shows us kids can’t study or focus when they are coming to school hungry,” Goerzen said.

While she refers to it as a no-brainer, Goerzen is a big believer in being able to present evidence-based research, which she said will make people more likely to support such a vision.

From a local perspective, Goerzen is a staunch advocate of CHEP’s mandate to make vegetables and fruits available to families who might not have been able to access or afford them.

“CHEP is dedicated to the whole picture–growing, purchasing, preparing and consuming healthy foods,” she summed up.