For a few hours every Wednesday during the school year, 23 Division Somali Liaison Neighbourhood Unit officers will be found at Dixon Grove Junior Middle School over the lunch break instead of on the beat.
They will help with the school’s hot-lunch program delivered three days a week.
Operational for nearly three years, the cops joined the program a month ago.
Officers help prepare and serve lunch and dine with students in the junior and senior lunch rooms.
“It’s wonderful to have police officers here,” said Etobicoke Centre trustee Chris Glover. “It shows they are really part of the community.”
Superintendent Ron Taverner joined officers at the school on February 3 to help prepare and serve a pasta lunch with salad.
“This program is beneficial on several fronts,” he said. “Besides the nutritional value for the students, it helps us build trust with the young people. It says to them they should not be timid or afraid to engage us in conversation. When they are out on the street, they should feel very comfortable to approach our officers and speak with them candidly and frankly.”
Principal Neil Quimby said the cops are most welcomed at his school.
“What I like about this new partnership is that it’s not one-off,” he said. “The officers have committed to be here every Wednesday. I remember, when I got here eight years ago, there was a disconnect between the school community and the police. This is no longer the case as they are now part of our family.”
Two dedicated parents in the community work with about 42 Grades Seven and Eight kids to come up with a menu and spearhead the preparation.
“This program is unique in that it’s kids working for kids,” said Quimby. “They are learning important, transferable life skills.”
Daiseen Williams, a Grade Seven student, enjoys cooking for her peers.
“We prepare pasta, chicken and rice and pizza and it feels good to know my fellow students are having a good nutritional meal at lunchtime three days a week,” she said.
The cost of lunch prepared in the family studies room, which was converted to a kitchen when that program fell by the wayside because of lack of funding, is $3.
Sergeant Brian Beadman and Quimby are part of the Dixon Road Safety Committee.
“My unit is responsible for policing the Dixon Road neighbourhood,” said Beadman. “Many of the kids from the community come to this school. It’s such a pleasure being involved in this outreach initiative that promotes open dialogue and trust between students and the local officers.”
Constable Ramandeep Sandhu is a member of the Division’s Somali Liaison Neighbourhood Unit.
“We come to the school on Monday evenings and spend about two hours playing with the kids any sport they choose,” she said. “Preparing and serving food here is an extension of our work in the community.”