Last year while visiting a school I had a conversation with a principal that has stayed with me. This principal told me the story of a student who on Fridays would take a little extra lunch, stop by the office to pick up an apple or two and would tuck whatever food he could find into his pockets for safe keeping. The weekends, you see, were long for this kid. This principal told me that for some of his students the lunch provided by the school on Friday would be the last proper meal for some students until they returned to the school on Monday morning. Unfortunately, these students, this school are not an anomaly.
Poverty knows no boundaries; there are families and children living in poverty in every part of our city. A recent report discussed by Trustees cites City of Edmonton census data from 2018 that shows 1 in 8 people in our city live in poverty, of those 40,000 are children.
“Children and families living in poverty are more likely to have limited access to an adequate supply of healthy food.” – Strategic Plan Update: School Nutrition Program, September 10, 2019
Many of Edmonton Public schools have nutrition programs and have been running these essential programs for decades. Of the 77 nutrition programs currently in our schools, 22 are funded by the provincial government. The rest are funded by the generosity of Edmontonians; businesses, individuals, organizations who believe in the simple premise that a child should not be trying to learn at school while hungry. To be clear, Edmonton Public could not feed the thousands of students who need breakfast and lunch without the support of our community.
During the discussion Trustees had on the nutrition program we heard loud and clear from our administration that there is a need for more; more programs, more funding, more donations. There are more kids that need a breakfast when they walk through the doors of their school, more kids that need a little extra in their lunch and yes, more kids that will walk home from school on Friday not knowing if they will eat a meal again until Monday.
I am pleased that the Alberta government has chosen to continue funding the nutrition program, started by the NDP, in Alberta schools for this upcoming school year. For Edmonton Public Schools, this means $1.2 million dollars, enough to feed about 4,600 students. However, just like the NDP this current government is not making any commitments on the long term future of funding this critical program in our schools. While it is great to have certainty (finally!) on the nutrition program for this year, what is really needed is long term, predictable and adequate funding into the future.
Your Board of Trustees believes strongly in the nutrition program and will continue to advocate to the provincial government for sustained funding of this important initiative. We will also advocate for partnerships that allow our students to come to school knowing they can fill their bellies, if they need to. This is part of the vital role that public education plays in our society: to establish community connections that support students in the simple act of having a decent meal to eat, in order to help them learn.