‘Hunger is hunger’: a call to action for free breakfast and lunch programs in schools

May 24, 2023 | Canadian News, Headlines, News

The Toronto Youth Cabinet (TYC), teachers unions, and food banks called on the provincial government to fund free breakfast and lunch programs in schools.

The letter was sent to the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa on Wednesday, outlining the issues of increasing food insecurity that children and youth face.

According to a 2022 report by Feed Ontario, 30 per cent of food bank visitors were under 18 years old.

The Hunger Report 2022 by Feed Ontario showed the number of food bank visitors have increased by 24 per cent in the past year. While inflation rises and food costs continue to increase, the demand for food in schools continues to grow.

Barb Dobrowolski, the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said the food programs currently running in schools are unsustainable.

“Teachers are seeing kids coming to class more frequently now where they are hungry,” she said. “Now, the problem is, as the need is growing, and with increasing costs of food, some of these food programs do not have enough funding.

“They do not have enough food,” Dobrowolski said.

While providing food for children is a necessity, it also helps educate students about food and healthy eating, Dobrowolski said.

“It’s a skill that lasts a lifetime,” she said.

The letter sent to Lecce and Parsa also discusses the impact hunger has on children and the quality of their education.

Debbie Fisher, the coordinator at the Coalition for Healthy School Food, said not having access to food during the day reduces the ability for children to learn and be healthy.

Fisher said the coalition talks about giving “a healthy meal for every child, every day.”

However, in order to do this, there has to be more funding, she said.

“Food programs across Canada are struggling and growing,” Fisher said. “Some have breakfast programs, some have lunch programs.

“They’re all good, but they could be better. They could reach more people if there was more funding,” she said.

The Ontario government gave $32 million in funding in 2014 to expand the province’s school nutrition programs over three years. Since then, no additional funding has been given despite the large increases in not only food costs, but also of living.

Stephen Mensah, the executive director of the TYC, said nutrition programs across Ontario are at a breaking point.

“With inflation on the rise, government funding at a standstill, and decreased parental donations,” he said. “There is an urgency to support children because they are facing very precarious challenges.”

Raising awareness, contacting local MP and MPPs, and urging both the federal and provincial government to take action are ways to help this issue, Fisher said.