National school feeding program met with cautious optimism in British Columbia

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $1 billion five-year program on Monday

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A federal program to provide $1 billion over five years for school lunches was met with enthusiasm by advocacy groups and experts Tuesday, although all warned that the devil will be in the details when they are released in the federal budget on April 16.

The goal is to feed 400,000 more Canadian schoolchildren, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when announcing the program on Monday.

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“This is a historic and important announcement for Canadian children and families.” Jennifer Blacksaid an associate professor of food, nutrition and health at UBC. “Feeding programs should be part of school.”

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Jennifer Black is an associate professor of food, nutrition and health at UBC. UBC Photo /sun

The federal government has yet to work out details with provincial and territorial governments about how the program will work.

Research suggests one in six British Columbia families worry about the cost of food, and one in 20 Canadian children don’t eat lunch during school days, Black said.

Across the province, 75 per cent of school districts have feeding programs, but because funding is unreliable, they often rely on volunteers, “fighting moms” or charities.

Last year’s provincial budget committed $214 million over three years for British Columbia school districts to create or expand food programs in a program called Feeding futures.

The Vancouver Sun Adopt a school Meanwhile, the program distributed a record $2.3 million in 216 grants to schools across the province during the recently completed winter campaign, surpassing the previous year’s record $1.9 million.

Of those 216 grants, 195 were to provide meals to children identified by teachers as going to school hungry every day, said Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun and president of the board that administers the Adopt-A program. -School.

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“The number of schools asking for money to help feed children continues to grow year after year,” he said.

Since 2011, the program has sent almost $14 million, raised through donations from Sun readers, to schools to feed and clothe impoverished children.

Monday’s federal announcement came after decades of lobbying by various groups.

“It’s just fantastic news and we’re looking forward to learning more through the budget,” he said. Samantha Gamblingproject coordinator for the BC chapter of the Healthy School Food Coalition. “The need is so great.

“Essentially, we welcome this investment in a national school feeding program. “It’s been a combination of 30 years of advocacy to get to this point.”

Having the federal government involved means replacing the existing patchwork of programs offered across the country, Gambling said.

Additionally, with food costs skyrocketing, many previously existing programs have been unable to accommodate more students.

As others have also pointed out, feeding schoolchildren healthy foods does much more than fill them up: it’s hard to concentrate on grammar or math when your stomach is growling.

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“We know that students who have access to healthy foods at school not only lead healthier lives but also have an educational advantage and achieve better academic outcomes,” Gambling said.

Viveca Ellis, executive director of the Center for Family Equity (formerly the Single Mothers Alliance), said the school feeding program is long overdue.

“This is very exciting, this is fantastic news,” he said. “We are on our way to building a school food system in British Columbia, and this federal investment is much needed and really sets a high standard across the country.”

There are a lot of details to work out, including how they staff and source the programs’ food, but one of the things about a universal program is that it doesn’t single out disadvantaged children, Ellis said.

When children whose families cannot meet their nutritional needs, or arrive at school without any lunch, they smack of shame when they are directed to a separate area to eat, she said, which is why her group advocates for a program that include everyone.

The Center for Family Equity along with the Healthy School Food Coalition and canada food insurance conducted recent research with low-income parents whose children already use school feeding programs to evaluate their experiences.

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“We heard from many passionate (low-income) parents how important these programs are, that these types of programs have a huge impact on their health, their nutrition, their food security, and their children’s ability to learn with equitable access. to food during the school day,” Ellis said.

“What we also heard was that some low-income children who need school feeding programs refused to participate in the programs because they did not want to sit at a table in the corner of the dining room to eat lunch.”

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