Cowichan Valley - Noted Cowichan Valley chef Fatima da Silva takes a no-nonsense approach to feeding hundreds of hungry children in her community.
“You just do it. If you start thinking too much about it, nothing gets done. It might seem complicated, but it still needs to be done. And I haven’t regretted a single second.”
Two years ago, Da Silva, Anita Carroll and Dina Holbrook founded Nourish Cowichan, a 100 per cent volunteer-run community organization aimed at filling the empty bellies of the more than 30 percent of Cowichan area children who live below the poverty line. Initially focused on providing nutritious breakfasts to children attending several local elementary schools, the program has recently been expanded thanks to a $12,500 Community Wellness Grant received from Island Health. Today, Nourish Cowichan also supports a daycare on remote Penelakut Island, the Arcadian Daycare in Duncan, and the Cowichan Maternity Clinic.
“Our Community Wellness Granting Program enhances existing or promotes new community programs, systems and networks that can positively influence health outcomes and create an environment where healthy choices are easier for people living in our region,” says Dr. Shannon Waters, Island Health Medical Health Officer and grant selection committee member. “Nourish Cowichan’s early years food security project is an excellent example of how an organization is using the grant to create long-lasting positive impacts on the health and wellness of young children and expectant mothers.”
“The grant has allowed us to reach out to even more vulnerable children and their families,” says Anita Carroll, a registered nurse and nurse educator. “Together, we are feeding them good, healthy food and ensuring they have proper nutrition so their little bodies and brains can be growing the way they are supposed to.”
Carroll and Da Silva both remember their feelings of dismay and helplessness when they heard stories of young children arriving to school hungry. That’s why twice a week, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, they gather to prepare and package a variety of healthy and delicious breakfast offerings – everything from breakfast muffins, burritos and sandwiches, to waffles, biscuits, and fruit salad.
“Fatima has a wonderful way of cutting back on sugars and hiding a whole pile of healthy ingredients in the food. For example, we’ll add carrots, zucchini, soaked and pureed raisins, squash and yams to our batters,” explains Carroll. “When we send food to the two daycares, we also provide additional items such as eggs, salmon, homemade applesauce, milk and yogurt.”
Much of the food is delivered by volunteers, while every two weeks the manager of the Penelakut Daycare travels to Duncan to pick up enough food to be both eaten immediately and frozen for later use. Nourish provides an especially valuable service to Penelakut, as island residents do not have access to a grocery store. Nourish also delivers weekly to the Arcadian Daycare in Duncan, where executive director Nathan Sam says the food prepared by Da Silva, Carroll and their volunteers helps to augment the daycare’s existing lunch program, providing more than 30 young children with an even wider variety of healthy food choices.
“Having access to quality foods creates an easier day for children who are properly nourished, and better able to function while interacting with their peers,” says Sam. “Nourish Cowichan is a gift to our community. Beyond filling empty tummies, they work diligently to provide for so many children in the Cowichan Valley, to encourage their social and academic successes.”
Cowichan Maternity Clinic physician Dr. Maggie Watt knows all too well the importance of ensuring healthy nutrition early on. A number of her patients and their families struggle with poverty and food security issues and are forced to travel long distances to receive maternity care at the clinic.
“We know that early development is critical – it is so important to ensure that expectant moms and their children have access to nutritious food,” says Dr. Watt. “We see significant nutritional deficiencies in our patient population and anything we can do to counteract that is so valuable.”
While Da Silva and Carroll already devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to the Nourish Cowichan project, they are also working hard to ensure the program remains sustainable and to expand it even further.
“If a child is hungry, we will feed them. This is just the beginning,” says Carroll. “We have so many ideas – engaging kids in schools to teach them about food security, teaching them how to grow their own food and showing them how to process, cook and prepare it, and educating families in making better nutritional choices, regardless of the size of their budget. The list is endless.”
To learn more about Nourish Cowichan including how to donate or volunteer, please visit www.nourishcowichan.ca
To learn more about food security in BC, please visit https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthy-eating/professionals/food-security
Island Health’s Community Wellness Granting Program is available to local governments, not-for-profit community organizations and Indigenous communities doing work related to population health and health and wellness.
To learn more about Island Health’s Community Wellness Grant Program please visit: