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?

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