We’ve all felt it; that pang or ache in your stomach, that physiological response our body has when it feels empty and needs food. Luckily for most of us, we can walk to our fridge or pantry, or venture out to a store or market, and grab a snack to give ourselves sustenance. But for many youth, that hunger is a constant reality.
Canadian youth are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population and the most vulnerable. Life on the street is brutal and dangerous for youth, making it extremely difficult for them to maintain their health and well-being. A study conducted on Toronto’s homeless youth population found that youth facing homelessness were often nutritionally vulnerable — causing significant impacts on both their physical and mental health. March is National Nutrition Month, and it’s surreal to know that in our country, hundreds of youth are going to bed hungry, without adequate access to the nutrition they need to thrive.
Nutrition and Well-Being
An article by York University emphasizes the significant growth and development that is critical during adolescence and the significant health impacts that being nutritionally vulnerable can have. Being nutritionally vulnerable not only leads to poor overall health, but can aggravate existing conditions, increase the likelihood of infections, and impair cognitive functions, making it difficult to concentrate in school and obtain employment.
Barriers to Nutrition
There are many barriers for youth, who are precariously housed or are living on the streets, to maintain access to nutritious food:
- Financial barriers: Nutritious food is much more expensive than many quick and unhealthy options.
- Storage and equipment barriers: If young people are homeless, they do not have access to a fridge to store milk, fruits and vegetables, and other perishables. It is likely that they don’t have access to any cooking equipment or a clean and sanitary kitchen for that matter, and even if they do, they may not have much knowledge around food preparation and cooking.
- Food literacy: Without nurturing adults present in their lives, youth may not know much about nutrition, how to navigate a grocery store, how to shop economically, how to make healthy food choices, and they may lack the skills and knowledge around food handling and preparation.
- Accessibility barriers: Services or grocery stores may be too far for youth to access, and they may not be able to afford transportation to get there. If they are working, their work schedule may make it difficult for them to access services.
- Dependency barrier: Youth may have younger siblings or dependents that they are caring for that can make it more challenging for them to access nutritious meals.
- Stigmatism barrier: Some services may trigger a childhood memory, or the youth may have had a bad experience at a store or service. They may also feel stigmatized, because of their current status.
Love and Respect Through Food
Food is an important way for us to show that we care about the young people we serve at Covenant House Vancouver, and it is an essential way to start building a trusting relationship with these youth. When young people arrive at Covenant House, our kitchen provides healthy, nutritious, and delicious meals. Our Outreach Team connects with youth that do not make it to our kitchen to provide them with granola bars, sandwiches, and drinks, and invite youth to access our Drop-In Centre for a hot meal.
While at Covenant House, youth learn life skills, such as basic food preparation, how to cook, how to navigate the isles in a grocery store, and how to make healthy choices on budget.
Because of various barriers, such as rising food costs, the increased cost of living, extremely limited or no source of income, stigmatism and embarrassment, and the general hardship youth face with accessing food resources in the community, we partnered with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, two years ago, and created Covey’s Cupboard.
Covey’s Cupboard is a way for us to provide healthy food options, perishables, and kitchen staples to youth. Every week, anywhere from 30 to 50 youth come to “shop” for grocery items, with the freedom and autonomy to choose what food best serve their needs and palettes.
The popularity of Covey’s Cupboard has highlighted, for us, just how many youth struggle with food insecurity. With the ongoing rise in food costs, and inflation, it is becoming harder and harder for people to access the nutrition they need.
You can help today, by donating some much-needed, unexpired items to Covey’s Cupboard:
- Mixed nuts
- Soup mixes
- Cereal (hot/cold)
Canned & Jared Items
- Tomato/pasta sauces
- Cooking oil
- Peanut butter
- Canned meats
- Pressed garlic/ginger
Condiments & Spices
- Hot sauce
- Parmesan cheese
- Salad dressing
- Garlic powder
- Italian seasoning
- Seasoning salt
For more information, or to coordinate a drop off, please contact:
Together, we can work to ensure that no young person goes hungry.