Students Relish Free Subs

Jeanelle and Marty Curtis stand outside École Lacombe Upper Elementary School where they bring free subway sandwiches to children in need.

Some Central Alberta students are no longer going hungry, thanks to a special partnership.

The Lunches to Learn program, developed by Lacombe businessman Marty Curtis and his wife Jeanelle, is achieving success within Wolf Creek Public Schools Division. A Better World Canada, a 100 per cent volunteer organization created and governed by Lacombe’s College Heights Seventh Day Adventist Church, is playing a key role in that achievement.

Curtis, the franchisee for Subway in Lacombe, was already familiar with A Better World, helping to raise $27,000 for a medical centre in Honduras. He approached A Better World after learning that some Lacombe area students were going hungry at lunchtime.

“A friend (working at the junior high) told us about this one student who wasn’t doing well, coming from a broken home. He came without breakfast and lunch and wasn’t sure if he was going to be staying at home that night or having to go somewhere else.”

Curtis ensured the boy had a free subway sandwich for about a month, at which time the school year ended.

School counsellors are invited to refer any students onto the program, which began in the fall of 2012. Participating students receive a free subway sandwich every school day until no longer necessary.

About $15,000 has been raised so far, including $7,000 from the Curtis family. Service clubs, businesses, plus a church and individuals have donated. Several volunteers deliver the food to five Lacombe schools. Other schools have not yet accessed it.

In the first year, about 22 students accessed the program and again the following year.

“We don’t know who the kids are,” Curtis said. “We try to keep it as confidential as possible.”

A Better World gives administrative support. Financial donors can receive non-taxable receipts through A Better World.

Subway offers a 25 per cent discount on the sandwiches, so they are done at about cost, Curtis said. At the end of each month, Subway invoices A Better World for the subs and it will pay Subway back.

A Better World doesn’t invest money into the project.

“Basically, the donors are giving the money to A Better World so it can finance the program,” said Curtis.

Part of A Better World’s mission overseas is to ensure that all children have access to education and that they have good nutrition while in school. When it heard that some students were going hungry within A Better World’s own backyard, it was ready to help.

“You have a hard time seeing a need and nothing is happening about it,” said Rob Weich, operations manager for A Better World. “So we definitely wanted to start helping right away. It’s hard to learn when you are worried about putting food in your stomach.”

Three years ago, A Better World created its Neighbours program to help Central Alberta’s less fortunate. While the school campaign isn’t directly part of Neighbours, its mission is similar.

Weich said that no one knows of A Better World’s direct involvement with the Lunches to Learn program — and that’s OK.

The subway sandwiches are delivered to the schools in such a way that the students don’t stand out from the crowd.

Ian Wilson, assistant principal at École Lacombe Upper Elementary School, said the response has been “fantastic.”

“The kids are so thankful that somebody is looking after them…and I’m sure that’s the response from the families as well,” said Wilson.

An average of five students have received a free lunch annually.

“It’s really a great link between community and school,” he said. “We’re just so thankful that somebody would step forward and do this for us.”

By LAURA TESTER