Most foster children know the chaos, the disappointment and the fear of living with adults who cannot care for them. Edmund Rice Camps (ERC) NSW, offer foster children the chance to have some big fun, to interact with responsible adults, to learn new ways of doing things and to meet other children who share their life experiences. ERC is one of Foodbank NSW & ACT’s newer charity partners who is benefiting from the hundreds of thousands kilos of food that is donated, rescued and redistributed every month thanks to your support.
For us at Foodbank there’s only one thing better than seeing young people grow and develop mentally and emotionally. It’s seeing them also be nourished physically with healthy food!
We asked Anneke Pike, the Executive Officer of ERC NSW, to tell us more about the camps and the impact she is seeing on the kids as a result of the partnership with Foodbank NSW & ACT:
What does ERC do?
A: ERC provides holiday and recreational experiences for children who are suffering some form of disadvantage. We run around 15 camps per year, mostly during the school holidays, and focus on fun, engagement, socialisation and positive mentoring. Our camps differ from others in that we have the same number of volunteers as we do children on camp. Usually, this means our camps are made up of around 25 children and 25 volunteers, and then one staff member. This means that every child receives individual attention, support, and we can also be really flexible in tailoring activities to suit individual needs.
Who does ERC help?
A: ERC has programs for children aged 6-15 years, from all over Sydney. Most of the children on our programs are in foster care, living below the poverty line in severe financial disadvantage, have a family member with a disability or mental illness, or are children from refugee and Indigenous backgrounds. These are children with not enough food, no-one to look up to, no self-esteem, and little hope. Yet these are the children that make us smile, laugh, and challenge us constantly at camp to be better people and push for a more just society.
What impact have you seen on the kids who come to the camps?
A: The biggest short term impact we have on the children coming to camp is an improvement in their positivity. We also see developments in children’s feelings of self-worth and value, confidence, social skills, confidence, and behaviour. Positive short term impact is expected – we are giving children the opportunity to have a week of holiday and fun that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do, but we see our role in children’s lives to be longer term, in order to achieve longer term positive impact. Every child on camp has the opportunity to continue to come on future camps.
We have also seen many long term benefits of camp on children’s lives – and the best way this is demonstrated to us is when children aspire to, and then come back to camp as a volunteer leader. They are able to share their experience with other leaders with a sense of pride, and again, this challenges leaders to break down stereotypes and judgements they may have about different groups in society.
How does getting food through Foodbank NSW & ACT help both running the camps and the kids?
A: It has made a significant impact on our programs in a number of ways. Of course, the cost of catering our programs has been reduced, due to the availability of low cost and free products available to us. We operate on a very small budget so any savings are significant to us, and are funnelled back into programs, meaning ultimately more children on camp. However, Foodbank NSW & ACT has also meant we have been able to be more creative with the food we can serve on camp, and really importantly, it has meant we can have much more focus on healthy eating. The huge variety of products has challenged us to think about what we are serving, and the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables has made these the focus of our meals, rather than a side. Children now have the option of fruit at every meal, and are trying foods they have never seen or tasted before. The reduction in the amount of processed food we are serving and a focus on whole foods means that children’s behaviour is more stable, and that is a positive for everyone! Volunteers are also well nourished – we all know how much a difference a good meal can make after a busy and tiring day!
What impact has the Foodbank food had on the kids?
A: We regularly have children on camp who will have never tried foods that I take for granted to be part of my regular diet – such as cucumber, sweet potato, corn, melons, and broccoli. Sometimes children are resistant to try new foods, however the individual support and attention means that sometimes we can have a bit more of an influence on their desire to try new things. Meal times can be confronting for volunteers – watching children eating food so fast for fear there won’t be seconds (as there isn’t seconds at home), or seeing the surprise on children faces when desert is served on the first night (homemade brownies and strawberries), or sitting down at dinner time to a plate of grilled chicken and roast veggies and greens, listening to a child say ‘this food has been the best thing about camp, this is better than a restaurant’, when that day we had spent the day at the zoo, or the beach, or any other really fun activity. We see the children develop a real sense of joy in setting the table, getting a drink for the people at their table, and helping to clean up afterwards, as they are excited by meal times and want to be part of the experience.
Thank you for helping to feed and nourish these disadvantaged and foster children through your support of Foodbank NSW & ACT. Because of you, so many more kids are having positive experiences of healthy food and life in general!