This homelessness week, BCYF (Barwon Child, Youth & Family) is changing the way young people in our region who are experiencing homelessness can eat well and learn more about food and nutrition.
BCYF’s ‘Feed Me Right’ program, was created in 2020 to increase access to healthy food and improve food literacy for young people experiencing homelessness.
The project delivers cooking classes for young people staying in BCYF’s refuge accommodation, City Limits. Homeless young people are supported at City Limits for up to six weeks. Feed Me Right also provides healthy food start-up packs during their time at the emergency and short-stay refuge.
“We know that young people experiencing homelessness often have limited access to nutritious food for optimal health and wellbeing,” BCYF Executive Director Client Services Allan Murphy said.
“When people who are homeless can afford to buy food, nutrition is often a secondary consideration or not a consideration at all. Simply filling your stomach and feeding your family are the priorities.”
“A poor diet can impact a young person’s ability to study or work, which can in turn intensify the situation. Feed Me Right not only provides emergency relief for food, but it changes the way young people think about food and nutrition. It develops their cooking skills and knowledge, and hopefully sets them up for a healthy future. It’s working towards breaking that cycle of social disadvantage,” Mr Murphy added.
Every year, BCYF supports around 1200 young people to access homelessness supports, but at any given time, there are as many as 200 young people on a waiting list without stable accommodation.
The Feed Me Right pilot was funded by the Give Where You Live Foundation, for eight months until June 2021. Community donations to BCYF’s youth homelessness services have allowed the project to continue until the end of October 2021.
Over the first eight months of the project, more than 1000 meals were provided via nutritional food packs tailored to the facilities the young person can access. Foods that can be safely stored and prepared are provided to young people staying in emergency accommodation in motels with access to only a microwave, kettle, and small fridge, with more flexibility for those in transitional housing or a house or unit with access to a full kitchen.
Additionally, young people staying at BCYF’s City Limits refuge have participated in comprehensive cooking classes that include learning how to plan meals, prepare a shopping list, budget, and purchase food.
BCYF youth worker, Sandy Baker, who regularly conducts the cooking classes, said Feed Me Right has surpassed all expectations among both caseworkers and clients.
“There are some kids that have eaten virtually nothing but noodles for their entire life. We’ve got some kids that might not know how to turn on a stove, so we start with the basics and build from there,” Ms Baker said.
“Some of them may never have seen fresh vegetables, so we are teaching them new taste sensations which is wonderful. It’s really developing their palate and showing them that food that’s good for you, can also taste great,” she added.
Ms Baker, who enjoyed a 30-year career as a chef prior to her involvement in the youth services sector, said the project was making a real difference in the lives of many young people.
“It’s great to watch the young people blossom and become more confident in the kitchen.”
“I recall one day, I was telling a young person what to do and why it’s done and he turned around and said ‘Sandy, do you know I learn something new in the kitchen every time I’m in here, and now I can go and teach my grandma my little tricks’. It was a really lovely thing to hear,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by participants of the Feed Me Right cooking classes, including 18-year-old Chelsea* who says her involvement in City Limits and Feed Me Right has had a significant impact on her life.
Prior to her stay at City Limits, Chelsea had been experiencing homelessness for about two years, including couch surfing with friends. She was experimenting with drugs and her diet was largely made up of 2-minute noodles and toast.
Today however, she is sober, enrolled in an early childhood education course and looking forward to the future.
“I think this (Feed Me Right) is going to help me a lot, for my future, because I will be able to know how to cook lovely, fresh and healthy meals – I was not that healthy before I came to BCYF,” Chelsea said.
“I’ve learned how to cook more recipes. I’ve learned how to get into a routine. I’ve learned that it’s okay to have problems, and it’s okay to open up and talk with people.”
“I thank BCYF for giving me the chance of moving forward in my life and achieving some of my goals. Having BCYF in my life has really helped me as a person, to know that there is help and support out there,” Chelsea added.
To find out more about BCYF’s Youth Services programs visit www.bcyf.org.au.
You can also support young people by making a donation to BCYF’s youth homelessness program, including Feed Me Right, online: https://www.bcyf.org.au/make-a-donation/
*Name has been changed to protect identity.