Feature

Nutrition for School Learning

Jim Giles

Did you know that 148,000 school-age  children  live  with  chronic hunger  in  Ontario  and  5,900 children   in   northern   Ontario use food banks? The Ontario Association of Food Banks 2011 report, Combating Hunger: A Snapshot of Hunger in Ontario, reflects what we  heard over and over again while working on ETFO’s Education and Poverty Project – many elementary schools are struggling to provide nutritious food for students facing socio-economic challenges.

Many of ETFO’s elementary schools are located in areas affected by recent layoffs or high unemployment. In the last couple of years, food costs have been climbing due to higher grain and fuel costs. With economic downturns, students attending these schools are sometimes not  coming to school properly nourished. Nutritious meals are critical to  making  sure  that  Ontario’s  classrooms are healthy and happy and that students are able to actively participate in school learning. Studies consistently show that students who are well nourished perform better in school.

Eating healthily improves students’ concentration  and  strengthens their  immune systems. But the cost of buying groceries for school  programs  means  that  nutrition  in schools is becoming a greater challenge for rural and urban communities.

ADDRESSING THE  CHALLENGE

In October 2008, ETFO initiated a partner- ship with the Grocery Foundation, an Ontario-based  not-for-profit  representing leaders from  Canada’s grocery industry. Since 1979, the Grocery Foundation has raised in excess of $75 million, which has gone toward over 250 organizations across the province and met a number of health and wellness needs, including providing nutritious breakfasts and snacks for school-age children. Public donations generated by the Tooniefor Tummies fundraising campaign, enables the foundation to purchase sponsored commodities such as milk, bread, and fruit. The Grocery Foundation in turn makes these nutritious foods available to elementary schools through a voucher system.

Schools  involved  in  ETFO’s  Educatioand Poverty Project were invited to participate in a pilot partnership program entitled Nutrition for School Learning, intended to save  significantly on food costs by using a subsidized voucher program. The success of this partnership has led to an expansion of the program with  over 230 public elementary schools now registered.

HOW DOES  NUTRITION FOR  SCHOOL LEARNING WORK?

To be eligible to participate, schools facing socio-economic  challenges  are  nominated by  their  local  ETFO office and  president. Nominations  are collected from locals and approved by ETFO provincial office. Each participating school in the program identifies a “food  ambassador”  (who  is  not  a classroom teacher) to oversee the program in their school. The food ambassador calculates and sends in the order for food vouchers and along with payment directly to The Grocery Foundation. Vouchers are quickly processed and sent to the school so that the food ambassador can redeem them at the local participating grocery store. Nine grocery chains participate in  the  program: Metro, Sobeys, Longo’s, Food Basics, Freshco, Price Choppers, Highland Farms, Galati Markets and Foodland. Schools save significantly on the retail value of food items like bread, milk, fruit, cheese, yogurt, and juice.

The  expansion  of  Nutrition fo School Learning is wonderful news for ETFO members  and  their  schools,  as  more  students will be provided with the nutrition necessary for  learning and  human  development. As one participating school stated: “Our money went so much further with this project. The food choices allowed us to incorporate all the food groups into our nutrition program. We were able to offer food choices that we traditionally would not have been able to afford to serve in the past”

Children need fuel to keep both their bodies and brains functioning. ETFO’s Nutrition for SchoolLearning will not solve the issue of hunger in Ontario, but it does help elementary schools stretch limited food budgets.

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