In the last province not to have a school food program, Fredericton-based philanthropists Earl and Sandy Kitchen-Brewer are determined to make sure that no student goes hungry in the classroom.
In just a few years, they've invested $723,000 in breakfast, lunch and snack programs that benefit more than 100 schools from the Acadian Peninsula to Saint John.
"It's like a startup, and any type of startup needs funding," said Earl Brewer, co-founder of Plaza Retail REIT, a publicly traded company that lists more than a billion dollars in property assets.
One of the things the Brewers like to see in a proposal is students helping other students.
"They're practising empathy then," said Sandy Kitchen-Brewer. "They'll be the ones to carry on, in the future."
Earlier this year, the Brewer Foundation green-lighted a pitch from the former culinary tech teacher at Southern Victoria High School in Perth-Andover.
Older students helping the younger ones
David Gallagher envisioned high school students making meals for the younger students at Andover Elementary and Perth-Andover Middle School, who would otherwise go without.
The Brewer Foundation kicked in more than $30,000 to help pay for kitchen upgrades and glass-front display fridges so kids could see the milk and snacks inside and grab what they needed.
WATCH | Student volunteers practise empathy by making sure other New Brunswick students don't go hungry during the pandemic.
"The information they wanted to know was so heartwarming," said Carol Godbout, the school community co-ordinator at Andover Elementary.
"It wasn't just here, fill out some forms. It was … 'Tell us about you. Tell us about your community. Tell us about your kids.' It was amazing."
The very latest project to get funding approval is the new hub kitchen in Saint John where meals are made for five elementary schools in high-priority neighbourhoods.
Erica Lane, the community engagement co-ordinator for the Anglophone South School District, said they just got word that they'll be getting $24,000 that will, among other things, help them find more space.
3,000 lunches prepared a day
The Brewers say they're determined to keep developing partnerships with local food champions who have a lot of wisdom to offer because they're in the community.
"We're probably making somewhere around 3,000 lunches a day and backpacks on the weekend," said Earl Brewer, totalling up the projects thus far.
"So we're not quite halfway there. We estimate there's probably five to seven thousand kids in the province with no lunch and no access to food."
The 'silent pandemic'
Sandy Kitchen-Brewer said it was her daughter who first opened her eyes to what she calls the "silent pandemic" of kids not having enough to eat in New Brunswick.
That was back in 2016 and within a year, the Brewer Foundation had donated a fully equipped kitchen that sits on the property of Leo Hayes High School, where volunteers still gather every weekday to prep more than 300 lunches for more than a dozen schools in the Fredericton area.
Currently, COVID-19 has made it nearly impossible to meet with the kids who benefit from the programs.
"That's our favourite part," said Sandy. "I think it makes us more aware."
Tanya McBride, who runs the Feed the Lions program, said the kitchen continues to be a huge asset.
"Having this building here on the Leo Hayes campus is amazing for us," she said. "It provides so many opportunities."
McBride said she can't think of any other private citizens who have invested as much time, interest and money.
"Not at this level. It's amazing what Earl and Sandy have done for the whole student hunger program in the province."