A hungry learner probably has his or her mind on the next meal rather than the day’s studies. Several School District 91 schools include a breakfast and/or a lunch program for their students.
Since 2012, RioTinto Alcan (RTA) has partnered with the Breakfast Club of Canada (BCC) to sponsor seven programs in School District 91.
More than 400 students at Fort St. James Secondary, Fraser Lake Elementary, Lakes District Secondary School (LDSS), Fort Babine Elementary, and three schools on the Woyenne reserve (Kindergarten, Primary, and the K’ay Skak alternate program) in Burns Lake, benefit from their schools participation in the breakfast program.
Grassy Plains Elementary Secondary School has recently applied to be part of the program, and has been placed on a waiting list pending available funding.
Grassy Plains had a hot lunch program for 10 years running, until this year.
Cheslatta Carrier Nation hosted the program for seven years with funds drawn from their community forest operations. It started out as a small program to address the needs of Cheslatta children, but quickly grew to include all students at Grassy Plains.
Three years ago, after the mountain pine beetle epidemic affected the profitability of the community forest and after the shut down of the Cheslatta sawmill, RTA stepped in and took over funding the $70,000 a year program for three years. Recently, RTA announced cost saving measures that meant the shutdown of funding for Grassy Plains school.
Corrina Leween was Cheslatta Carrier chief when the Grassy Plains hot lunch program was initially established, and is sad to see the program no longer available.
“I can’t stress enough how important it was to this community,” Leween said. “Having it disappear is detrimental to our community. The kids got use to sitting and eating together. In our traditional ways, food is the glue of the community.”
Seven other schools in the school district are on the waiting list. The waiting list represents about 600 children.
RioTinto Alcan’s 2012 $109,400 donation to BCC made it possible for the organization to equip schools and train staff and volunteers to be able to offer the program.
“We’re 98 per cent funded by corporations and businesses,” said Josee Desjardins, BCC Western Canada regional director. “We have close to a 100 programs in B.C.”
RioTinto Alcan’s funding will come to an end this January, and a decision has not been made whether or not the funding will be renewed.
But BCC looks at its role as on ongoing commitment, regardless of specific local funding.
“If RTA cannot renew their funding, we will keep supporting the schools,” she said. “We’re not going to walk away.”
“Ideally, we’d find a new sponsor, but we have national sponsors, like Walmart, Costco, and Air Canada for example, so we won’t walk away from a school because we’re loosing dedicated funding.”
The national level funding allows BCC to maintain stable programs where it has already establish programs, but local corporate and individual sponsors are needed to keep the program growing.
Funding levels determine how long a school has to remain on a waiting list of a breakfast program.
In Burns Lake, at LDSS, between 60 and 80 kids take advantage of the free breakfast every day. Lynne Reed, who runs the LDSS kitchen, has been serving up healthy homemade food since spring of 2012.
She has a full day of kitchen work everyday. In addition to the breakfast program, LDSS also provides a lunch program spread over separate time blocks to manage student volumes. Reed works with student, staff and community volunteers, including Burns Lake RCMP members to get the meals out.
In addition to the principle funding that comes from BCC and Rio Tinto Alcan, LDSS principal Mike Skinner said the program is supported by a strong base of community support, including The Lakes District Family Enhancement program, Breakfast for Learning, the Rotary Club of Burns Lake, the Burns Lake District Teachers Association, James Ferguson, the CIBC, and the Lakes District Food Bank Coalition.
“We have stable funding for two or three years,” Skinner said. “Then we’ll have to see were things stand.”
Breakfast and lunch programs have been shown to decrease bullying and increase student focus and ability to learn.
“When we first started the [lunch] program, the school told us the program made a change for students in the school towards eliminating violence and racism,” Leween recalled. “They raved about the program and how much it did.”
Schools that don’t participate in a regular breakfast program still watch out for students who may be going hungry.
“We… help out students who missed breakfast or forgot a lunch,” said Decker Lake Elementary School principal Vincent Hewgill.