Nova Scotia school food programs in high demand – Halifax | Globalnews.ca

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School food programs across Nova Scotia are becoming increasingly necessary for students, as one in four children in the province are living in poverty.

“We’re not always reaching the students who are in greatest need of access to food,” Nourish Nova Scotia executive director Lisa Roberts said.

Roberts says the Halifax region has a great number of schools that don’t have kitchens or cafeterias that need to see investments in infrastructure or support for more co-ordination.

“When food is provided at school, it promotes attendance, it addresses challenges with behaviour, it provides opportunities for student leadership, it helps to create an inclusive school environment,” Roberts said.

While breakfast programs are largely universal and available across Nova Scotia, Roberts says they’re not substantial enough to address the need students have for food at school.

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Because of that insufficiency, teachers take things into their own hands.

“Teachers are spending a lot of their time and money, in a lot of cases, on ensuring that students aren’t hungry,” Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) president Ryan Lutes said.

He says teachers are seeing the impacts of poverty every day in their classrooms.

“If we want kids to come to school ready to learn, they deserve to be fed,” Lutes said. “And not only fed, have a nutritious, healthy lunch. And a lot of the band-aid solutions that schools are trying to do just simply aren’t healthy.”

While a 2022 report from Nova Scotia’s auditor general shows that 98 per cent of schools offer a free breakfast program, it also found that the majority of schools tested were not complying with the provincial school Food and Nutrition Policy.

Roberts says many communities take fundraising for programs at their schools into their own hands, as provincial funding is not adequate.

“With food inflation and the price of food sky high these days, we’ve really noticed a tremendous difference both across Canada and here in Atlantic Canada,” Paul Lethbridge from Breakfast Club of Canada said.

In the Maritimes alone, Breakfast Club of Canada is funding 379 programs and serving more than 22,000 breakfasts every day.

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While the need is great and growing, inflation is acting as a “double whammy” for the organization — there’s more need in communities and less purchasing power for providers.

“We’ve really had to lean on the support of our community and our partners to help fill the gap so as many kids as possible can go to school and have access to nutritious food in the morning,” Lethbridge said.

Roberts says it takes time, people, leadership and organization to step up and offer something better for these students. To get there, they have a long way to go.

“There’s no question that there are schools that are struggling to provide the amount of food that students need,” Roberts said. “To be able to focus and attend and really thrive and live and learn and play and feel well in their schools.”

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