Lewis has helped feed C-K’s kids for years

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Elaine Lewis feeds Al Davies a strawberry at Lewis’ retirement gathering June 16. She’s retiring after 17 years as co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program in Chatham-Kent, and Davies is taking over.
Elaine Lewis feeds Al Davies a strawberry at Lewis’ retirement gathering June 16. She’s retiring after 17 years as co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program in Chatham-Kent, and Davies is taking over.

After nearly 28 years of helping ensure local students had full bellies before going to class, Elaine Lewis is retiring.

The Wallaceburg woman will call it quits as co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program in Chatham-Kent.

This year alone, 51 schools in the municipality ran elements of the program, and 7,500 students benefited from it.

It has come a long way from its roots – a church basement in Wallaceburg. Lewis said it began with her and a handful of other ladies offering breakfast for students there after a friend had told her of hungry kids heading to school each day.

“People brought their kids to us,” Lewis said, and then the program members took the kids to school. “We got into the school and just kept on going.”

For a decade, Lewis led the charge as a volunteer, until the paid position was created.

Over the years, she has helped tens of thousands of Chatham-Kent kids, making the program a huge success. But she doesn’t see things that way.

“You have made this program what it is, not me,” she told a gathering of family and staff from local school boards and the public health unit June 16. “The support network is amazing. People call us saying they have cash to donate to the program.”

Lewis said not only are students getting fed each day, they are receiving an important shot in the arm.

“It’s not just about the food. It’s about the community coming through to support the kids,” she said. “The kids recognize the community cares about them.”

But the full bellies – filled with healthy alternatives – cannot be understated.

“I’m very thankful for the way this program has grown. It’s a win, win all the way around,” she said. “Kids are now eating things they wouldn’t have dreamed of before.”

In a style so typical of Lewis, a student who volunteers at a breakfast program at one of the local schools came up to her at the event and thanked her for her efforts over the years. Lewis thanked the girl, and encouraged her to always remind the kids in the program to “eat your vegetables!”

Jim Costello, director of education for the Lambton-Kent District School Board, praised Lewis for her years of dedication.

“Think of how many tens of thousands of students she’s helped. That’s a pretty monumental commitment of time and energy to benefit these students with food,” he said. “We all know hungry kids are not attentive kids.”

Teresa Bendo, director of public health for the municipality, described Lewis as one of the most humble people she knows, and said her efforts have helped Chatham-Kent see the highest percentage of coverage by the Student Nutrition Program in the province.

“She will not stop contributing to this community,” Bendo said.

Dan Parr, the director of the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, said Lewis keeps it simple, but does it oh-so well.

“You are motivated by a sincere and heartfelt desire to help children by feeding them,” he told her.

As for the future, Lewis said she’d remain busy, but just not as busy.

“Now, I can take extra time to do stuff I’m already doing,” she said. “I’ll do more community work.”

This from a woman who regularly heads to Haiti on church missionary work.

Lewis said she’ll likely remain connected to the Student Nutrition Program as well – three of her sisters and a brother-in-law are a big part of the operations in Wallaceburg.

“It’s a family tradition: whatever one delves into, we all join,” she said.

Al Davies will take over as program co-ordinator of the Student Nutrition Program in Chatham-Kent. He knows he has large shoes to fill.

“I’ve seen first hand her work,” he said. “I was in Wallaceburg when Elaine was introducing the programs. Every school I’ve been to in Kent County, we’ve managed to put together the food program with help from Elaine.”

Comments

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1 COMMENT

  1. Congratulations, Elaine! Although it seems that you are not likely to slow down all that much, I encourage you to do something that you have wanted to do for yourself for years, whatever that may be! I am very pleased and proud of you for your genuine love and dedication to an extremely important program! Best of everything to you, my dear!
    Sue Heatherington xoxo

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