The Children’s Breakfast Club visits Parliament

Lauren Roulston • Feb. 15, 2024

Kids from TCBC sitting down in the House of Commons (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Two hundred kids lined the green velvet seats in the House of Commons. They came with a non-profit organization called The Children’s Breakfast Club (TCBC).

The organization aims to feed kids with hot nutritional meals so they’re ready for the school day. They also do coat drives, and collect sports and school equipment for the kids, too.

They do annual events, including a visit to Ottawa. This year the visit fell on Feb. 7.

For Black History Month the group honoured Zanana Akande, the first Black woman to be elected to Ontario legislature in 1990. Her work has involved removing barriers for disadvantaged youth and opening up new opportunities.

Zanana Akande holding an honorary poster, presented to her by TCBC (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

“This is an opportunity for us to make sure that our history is still out there, that it’s an integral part of the history of Canada, that we’re respected in all of our roles, and that we assume them with comfort without the battle so many of us had to go through,” she says.

Akande notes that Black history wasn’t discussed when she was in school.

“We want to make sure that the children know where they’ve come from, what’s available for them to go to, that they come from before slavery a very proud and ambitious group and that we have the ability to take our places within this country or any other country and do well,” she adds.

Greg Fergus, the Speaker of the House, was also being celebrated that day. He welcomed the kids to the House of Commons as they filled the MPs chairs.

Greg Fergus, the first Black Speaker of the House of Commons addresses TCBC (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

“Almost nobody gets to sit in these seats, but you do, cause you’re important. I want you to remember that because you are important, you are valued,” he said to them.

Fergus is the 38th Speaker of the House and the very first Black one.

“We can do a lot of great things,” he said to the kids, “when Black Canadians do well in this country, Canada does well as a country.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke to the kids and took some questions from them. They inquired about what’s being done to mitigate the cost of living crisis, and what life in politics is like.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes the hands of the kids on his way out (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).

Despite the long travels of the day, the kids’ excitement didn’t falter. The day had started for them at 4 am, waking up to catch school buses to Union Station.

Then, they caught a Via Rail train to the capital. TCBC has been doing these trips for around twenty-five years. They’re now partnered with Via Rail for the annual journey for the kids.

“These messages resonate from deep, and they’re going to remember that experience the rest of their lives,” says Vladimir Jean-Pierre, senior manager at Via Rail.

“Coming to a train, being served, coming to Ottawa you see the Prime Minister telling them how important they are, Greg Fergus telling them how important they are,” he adds.

Jean-Pierre has been coming on these trips for around 14 years. He was asked to come along for management but quickly recognized the impact it had on the kids.

“The minute we arrived, I was hooked,” he says. “The kids eyes, the ‘wow’ effect in their face from the minute they arrived to the minute they returned was to me, that I was in the right place.”

TCBC itself has existed since 1983, founded by Rick Gosling. When it first started, he says there were about eight or nine kids eating pancake breakfasts.

Over the past forty years, they’ve expanded to serve 221,000 meals in a school term, according to Gosling.

The recipes are chosen by volunteer team leaders of the community to reflect the cultures of the kids eating there.

Gosling says they’ve been asked to expand into lunch, too, in the growth of food insecurity in Canada.

“We’re trying to address those needs,” he says. “We’re a small organization, we’re all volunteers, so we can only expand so much at a time. But the demand is just so huge and we’re trying to help as many children as we possibly can.”

Gosling, Jean-Pierre, and the many volunteers of TCBC aim to create an environment where these youths are treated with respect.

Instead of tossing the kids an apple to eat, they’ll cut it up and portion it for them. They make sure that they’re addressing everyone by their first names and asking them how they’re doing.

“They’re all kids, and they all benefit from this interaction. The interaction on the train, they get to respect each other, to know each other,” says Gosling.

It’s also an aspect of their annual event planning. TCBCs events offer opportunities to the kids to learn and share unique experiences, like celebrating Black History month in the House of Commons with Zanana Akande and Greg Fergus.

“That’s what this is truly all about, is educating the broader community to the contributions of the Black community,” says Gosling.

Listen to CHUO’s coverage of TCBCs visit as heard on The Mosaic: