Theresa Stevenson, the co-founder of a long-running inner-city hot lunch program for school-aged kids, died on Monday.
Her son Greg confirmed the news in a Facebook post, saying his mother was 93 years old at the time of her death.
In 1986 Stevenson and her husband Robert helped launch a thrice-weekly hot lunch program out of the Albert-Scott Community Centre in Regina's North Central. The goal was to give school-aged kids in the area a high-protein lunch and dessert on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The program eventually came to be known as Chili for Children.
“From my own experience, I knew people were out there starving,” she told the Leader-Post in 1988. “But I also read a study done by a University of Regina professor, and it was enough to make you cry. Our children deserve better. They need a good nourishing meal because, if they’re hungry, they can’t study well. They can’t learn.”
Stevenson worked with Regina Native Community Awareness Inc. in the 1980s, devoting the rest of her life to helping North Central’s Indigenous youth.
She attributed part of her drive and motivation to her late grandfather, a former Chief at Cowessess First Nation, Joseph Lerat.
“He was a strong, good person and I admired him and wanted to be like him ... he was able to improve the lives of band members. He had a heart for others besides himself,” Stevenson said in the late 1980s.
The Chili for Children program still runs today, operating out of the mâmawêyatitân centre. It serves approximately 800 hot lunches everyday to school-aged kids in the city.
As Stevenson continued her work in Regina through the 1990s and 2000s, she gained recognition from various bodies across the province.
Those included: being named the 1998 Citizen of the Year by the FSIN (then called the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations); 1999 National Aboriginal Achievement Award in community development; Saskatchewan Order of Merit and a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2008, the City of Regina named a Lakeridge-area park in the city’s northwest in her honour.
“I was just always in my own little world there feeding the children and making sure they had something that I didn’t realize that people noticed what I was doing,” she said at the park’s unveiling.
Stevenson served as a FSIN senator from 2001 to 2003.
In an emailed statement, the FSIN (now called the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) offered its condolences to Stevenson’s family and friends.
“She will be missed by the many people who loved her dearly and by the thousands of lives she touched with her charity work and selflessness," FSIN Vice-Chief Dutch Lerat said. "She leaves behind a legacy that has left our world a better place.”
The FSIN noted Stevenson undertook her work by “asserting that First Nations women played a lead role in a then male-dominated time in the 1980s.”
Stevenson's sons Greg and Wes could not be reached for comment.
Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post