Breakfast is widely assessed as the most important meal of the day. For kids to actually get the benefit of the morning meal, however, they have to eat it and eat something nutritious.
“We see it all. We see children coming to school with Doritos and gummy bears and that’s going to be their lunch,” said Kelly-Sue Labus, executive director of Nutrition for Learning.
“We do have the have-nots in our region and people just can’t afford to provide as much as they would like to for their children.”
Learning on an empty stomach is tough, which is where Nutrition for Learning steps in. Since 1997, the agency has run breakfast, snack and lunch programs in regional schools.
The organization ran meal programs at three schools in its first year; by last year, it had spread to 83 schools. As of this week, the agency has added 22 new programs – including one at John Mahood Public School in Elmira – with more applications still coming in.
To cover the costs of the expanded programming, Nutrition for Learning has launched the “Feed the Kids” campaign.
Meal programs are partly funded by the province; the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services covers approximate 40 per cent of the food budget. Nutrition for Learning makes up the shortfall, as well as covering operating costs.
This year’s budget will be close to $800,000, and Nutrition for Learning needs to raise $450,000 of that through the Feed the Kids campaign.
The campaign kicked off in June and by July 14, there was $39,537 in the bank account, including $950 from the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. Labus said they have pledges for another $5,000, and the City of Waterloo climbed on board and challenged staff to come up with fundraisers.
Running meal programs for 10,000 students across the region takes more than money; Nutrition for Learning relies on the help of more than 450 volunteers.
In Woolwich, there are approximately 400 children getting meals at Riverside, Floradale and St. Teresa schools. That number will be boosted over 500 with the addition of John Mahood in September. Some volunteers have already signed on to help serve meals at John Mahood, but they are still looking for more, Labus said.
Meal programs vary from school to school depending on need, how many children are being served, and what facilities the school has. Some schools offer children a full breakfast in the morning before school starts; others supply healthy snacks for the morning nutrition break. For high schools, there are voucher programs where students can buy healthy food from the school cafeteria.
“A lot of the children come not having the right nutrition, so it’s an educational process as well,” Labus said. “If they can get the proper nutrition … they don’t have the sugar highs and lows so they’re not antsy and running around not listening.”
The Feed the Kids campaign runs until Feb. 28.