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Homemade happiness

At Strathcona School, they’re known as the Baking Circle; at Shaughnessy Park School, students simply call them “The Baking Ladies.”

But despite the informal names, the small army of bakers that provides snacks to both schools is a highly organized operation that involves volunteers from across Winnipeg. Dozens of bakers are donating their time—and ingredients—to keep students well fed.

“I’m just passionate about baking,” said Arlisa Greco, a Technical Solutions Manager for IBM Canada who started the baking circle at Strathcona nine years ago. “And I’ve become pretty good at tripling recipes.”

Volunteers Bake Team.jpg

Ms. Greco connected with Strathcona through a neighbor who was volunteering to read with students at the school. The neighbour had noticed that some students were coming to school hungry.

“She recognized that students couldn’t focus if they were hungry,” Ms. Greco said. “I said I would bake weekly for her when she was volunteering…I did that for the rest of the school year. But then I started thinking that I knew a lot of people who like to bake, and if I organized my likeminded friends, maybe we could do more.”

The baking crew has grown over the years to a rotation of 75 volunteers who provide snacks for Strathcona’s Nursery to Grade 2 students. One of the bakers, Khalie Jackson-Davis, has helped the circle expand to include Shaughnessy Park School; she coordinates approximately 30 volunteer bakers for the second school.

“I do less baking now that I’m coordinating,” said Ms. Jackson-Davis, who is also a Reading Clinician with St. James School Division. “Thanks to Arlisa, I have a very nice spreadsheet that I plot in and figure out the entire year for each baker. I send them their schedule at the start of the year.”

Teachers pick up the baked goods on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. The Strathcona operation is so large that Ms. Greco even has depot houses to collect baking from different areas of the city.

“Sometimes there’s so much you can’t fit it all in your car,” she said.

The baking circles also go beyond the staples of muffins and other treats.

“Sometimes people aren’t able to bake, so they’ll send in fresh fruit, yogurt, cheese and crackers, granola bars or other healthy snacks for the kids,” Ms. Jackson-Davis said.

Shaughnessy Park teacher Kristen Mitchell said the snacks have proven tremendously popular amongst students at the school.

“The students are always asking and trying to figure out what we’re having for snack on a given day,” Ms. Mitchell said. “They’re exposed to foods they might not get at home. They may have never heard of a cranberry and now they’re getting cranberry muffins.”

Students are raving about everything from muffins to squares to cookies.

“They are the best bakers ever, I like when they bake banana chocolate chip muffins,” said Adrian, a Shaughnessy Park student.

 “I like when they bake us treats at Christmas,” said another Shaughnessy Park student, Shanelle. “It was so tasty that my whole family ate it in one day.”

Those kinds of rave reviews are what keep the bakers hard at work in their respective kitchens.

“It’s important that the bakers hear those stories and get the feedback,” Ms. Greco said. “You want them to keep feeling inspired.”

The other reason for continuing the volunteer effort is simple.

“The reason for the program existing is that kids are hungry…and I can make a difference. As long as there is a need, we’ll keep going,” Ms. Greco said.

For more information on volunteering in WSD, please visit here.


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