News / Edmonton

'The need is so high': Schools, non-profits catching up to demand for breakfast programs

Canada is the only G7 country with no federal breakfast program: advocates

Nacy Petersen oversees breakfast programs for kids who don't always have food at home.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Nacy Petersen oversees breakfast programs for kids who don't always have food at home.

Breakfast programs are growing in Edmonton schools, but not quickly enough to meet the demand.

Nancy Petersen, director of district supports with Edmonton Public Schools, says some teachers are still buying food out of pocket for hungry kids.

“For years, teachers have had granola bars in their desks or packages of cup-of-soup type things, because they’re very aware … when kids haven’t had proper nutrition,” Petersen said.

“So they’ve been part of the solution, but we do need to have something that’s more predictable and more sustainable.”

Edmonton Public doesn’t track the exact number of schools that offer nutrition programs – the district uses a site-based model, where it’s up to the principal of each school to identify the need – but Petersen said it has expanded significantly in the last few years due to an increased awareness of the importance of nutrition when it comes to learning.

“I certainly think it’s something we’re talking about more,” Petersen said.

Edmonton Public partners with a number of organizations to deliver the programs. One national group, Breakfast for Learning, was in eight public schools last year and has doubled its coverage for the 2017-18 school year.

Another, the Breakfast Club of Canada, serves 22 schools in Edmonton and has eight on its waiting list.

The organization launched a fundraising campaign last week to help deliver the program to help meet the demand.

“That’s 500 students (in Edmonton) that we’re still waiting to reach,” said Ben Neumer, the group’s senior advisor of business development.

“The need is so high.”

Neumer said one in five students across Canada is at risk of going to school hungry, and each dollar donated to the Breakfast Club can provide one breakfast.

The organization follows up its work with school surveys and has found the program – which serves breakfast to kids who need it for 45 minutes before class starts – has helped students focus.

“We’re learning that there are less visits to the nurse’s office because of the breakfast programs, we’re learning that there’s less visits to the principal’s office for misbehaving because of these breakfast programs – so it’s definitely tangible,” Neumer said.

He said Canada is the only G7 country with no formalized federal meal program for schools, though he’s working to change that.

The Alberta government launched a school meal pilot program last year, which has expanded to include at least one school in each jurisdiction.

National organization Food For Thought also offers some programs in Edmonton, while local groups like E4C and Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions service clubs largely provide the funds for inner-city schools.

Cheryl Shinkaruk, manager of programs and projects with Edmonton Catholic Schools, said the need for breakfast programs is “definitely always growing.”

While most are in elementaries, some are adapted for junior highs and high schools, like the “breakfast bar” at St. Joe’s.

“We need our students to be able to learn in the classroom,” Shinkaruk said. “They need to be feeling that they have been fed in their bodies so then they can feed their minds.”

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