Charitable Choices: Catherine Parsonage of Toronto Foundation for Student Success

Catherine Parsonage, the CEO of the Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS), stands at the helm of a remarkable charitable organization dedicated to breaking down barriers to education for children in Toronto. Established in 1998, TFSS has been a beacon of hope for countless students, providing essential support such as food, eye and ear care, emergency funds, and after-school programs. Catherine’s journey with TFSS began in 2008 when she assumed the role of CEO, driven by a deeply personal encounter with child hunger. Witnessing a young girl’s silent struggle during a rainy lunchtime sparked a profound realization of the disparities faced by many children.

Toronto Foundation for Student Success

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work

Founded in 1998, the Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) is an independent, registered charitable organization dedicated to supporting children at schools by helping remove barriers to their education. By providing food, eye and ear care, emergency funds and after-school programs for children in need, we help them succeed in school. Our vision is that every school-aged child attends school well-nourished, ready to learn and has equal access to the support needed to take advantage of a good education.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Toronto is the child poverty capital of Canada. We believe that if we improve the health and well-being of our children, they will do better in school. And, if they do better in school, they will have a better future. Our goal is to provide programs that enable students to build resilience and thrive.

When did you start/join it?

I joined TFSS as the CEO in 2008.

What made you want to get involved?

The first time I realized the reality of child hunger in our city, I was at school at lunchtime. It was a rainy day, and all the kids were being kept in. As you can imagine, they were jumping around, laughing, and playing after they had finished their meal.

While most of the kids were playing, I noticed one little girl about five years old, hiding behind a pillar and peeking out at us. I noticed her because I wasn’t sure what she was looking at so intently. And then it hit me — she was hungry. I motioned her to come over and asked her if she wanted some lunch. She nodded, I gave her a plateful and she sat down next to me. She couldn’t eat fast enough. When she was done, she looked up at me, and I asked, “Would you like some more?” She nodded again. It was then that I realized that the playing field isn’t level and that some children don’t have the necessities that my children take for granted. I wanted to help.

What was the situation like when you started?

TFSS was founded after the public school boards in Toronto were amalgamated. At that time, schools across the city were telling us that thousands of children were facing many barriers, including food insecurity.

School communities were doing the best they could, relying on donations from food banks and day-old food from local stores. But there was no systemic support in place. We heard from schools that children needed glasses, safe places to be after school, winter clothing, and more.

We’ve come a long way. Today, TFSS and its partners help support over 225,000 meals each day in 826 Student Nutrition Programs. We also provide free after-school programs, and our Sight and Sound program, along with free glasses. Additionally, we run an Emergency Fund to provide immediate support to students in need and a School Opportunity Fund to support student learning initiatives.

How has it changed since?

Since COVID, we have seen a huge increase in students experiencing food insecurity at home, increased learning deficits, and the social and emotional impact resulting from years of online learning and isolation. The cost of food and shelter has risen exponentially. At the same time, Toronto has welcomed thousands of refugees and other newcomers. School communities are reaching out for help for their students in ever-increasing numbers. The need for the additional support we provide is greater than ever.

Toronto Foundation for Student Success

What more needs to be done?

It’s simple: more investment is needed from donors and other funders to help level the playing field for students in underserved communities. This includes healthy food at school, safe and welcoming after-school programs, vision screening and free glasses, warm clothing etc., so that children are ready and able to learn.

We’re excited about the announcement of the new National School Food Program. It’s a great start, and we hope it will help mitigate the soaring cost of food.

How can our readers help?

The children need your reader’s help right now. Too many don’t have enough healthy food, adequate clothing, and other essentials. Small gifts have huge impacts. To help, click here.

Do you have any events coming up?

For event information, visit our website and follow our social media channels!

Where can we follow you?

Website | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

While donating to any local charity of your choice is always a wonderful thing to do, I must confess that my favourite charity is the Toronto Foundation for Student Success, and I personally donate.


About Emilea Semancik 105 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to freelance her own pieces and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. She is also a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of recipe books. You can find her recipes on Instagram. @ancestral.foods