Feeding minds, hearts and growing bodies

Hot lunch program at Mother Earth's Children's Charter School helps kids achieve success

As a teacher at Alberta’s first indigenous children’s charter school, Maxine Hildebrandt is thrilled to help fuel the minds and hearts of her students.

She’s also pleased to represent a school that feeds children’s minds, hearts—and bodies.

Programming at Mother Earth's Children’s Charter School, near Stony Plain, AB, incorporates Aboriginal culture, and aims to nurture students’ self-confidence through an appreciation of their culture and the land.

And each day at lunchtime, with financial support from Enbridge, MECCS helps to fuel this mental and emotional enrichment with free, hot, nutritious lunches in the school’s cafeteria.

“Kids need good nutrition to help them achieve success,” says Hildebrandt. “It’s really hard to learn on an empty stomach.”

Hildebrandt wants to see her students demonstrate the energy needed to take in all the benefits of the Alberta curriculum at MECCS, which uses the lens of First Nations culture. The result is a powerfully affirming experience.

“I tell my students: ‘You have a unique opportunity to build on your strengths while you’re at this school—you can become a self-confident person for your lifetime.’ ”

Hildebrandt says many of the students at MECCS come from families whose low income and high unemployment hamper the ability to provide nutritious school lunches. Enbridge began sponsoring the school’s hot lunch program in 2014.

“When the hot lunches became available, it was so nice to know they could go to the cafeteria and have that food without having to worry about paying for it,” says Hildebrandt. “You see the happy look on their face when they get a plate of food to enjoy. You really see gratitude on their faces.”

As part of this 10-year partnership, Enbridge will continue to support the school’s hot lunch program until 2022.

Enbridge first teamed up with MECCS to help the school find a permanent home – the building where the school is located today, says Gina Jordan, a senior manager of community relations at Enbridge. “We found a natural alignment and so our relationship expanded to include the hot lunch program,” says Jordan. “We’ve been partners together ever since.”

This past fall, when Jordan and other representatives from Enbridge joined teachers and students at the MECCS cafeteria for a fall feast, they learned about an unexpected byproduct of that partnership—a growing sense of community at the school.

“Teachers sit with the students in the cafeteria and eat lunch. There is a separate staff room, but none of the teachers use it,” says Zoe Rezac, an Aboriginal community investment and training advisor with Enbridge.

“The hot lunch program provides the food for the hub that fuels a sense of community in the school.”