This week, we are bringing you an interview with Mary D’Alton, the person in charge of strategic development at Nutrition for Learning (N4L), one of the recipients of our special grants. Join us for a closer look at the local heroes in the N4L community in the midst of this pandemic.
Thank you Mary for joining us today. Do you have testimonials of heroes within your initiative (volunteers, delivery people, etc.) to share with us?
Personally, I do not have a single testimonial. It starts with the board of directors whose main concern is ensuring children continue to have nutritious snacks; it then moves along to the volunteer coordinator who ensures there are enough volunteers in place to make this a success. And of course the volunteers who said “yes” knowing that this is an essential service and are an extension of a front-line worker. Next are the drivers (especially Neil) who tirelessly get up all hours of the morning, make pickups, load trucks, create routes and drive around the city making stops, always ensuring the safety of the volunteers and families and always with a smile on their face. Neil really loves his job and is so dedicated to ensuring that everyone who needs something, gets something.
What is the impact of giving food to families in need in your community during the COVID-19 crisis?
From the look on parents’ and kids’ faces alike, the impact that the Nutrition for Learning program is making is huge. When we put the box of food on the cart, the look of relief is apparent. Not only do parents know that their kids are getting the same nutritious snacks as at school, but also the extra food items we are including are taking a little financial stress off the families. The younger kids are so excited to get the lunch bag to see what is inside.
Have you seen an increase in families and children asking for food?
There definitely has been an increase. I would think as more and more parents are finding it difficult to make ends meet, whatever we include takes the pressure off the grocery list. We have had so many wonderful additions/food donations to this program. I am truly amazed at the companies who are helping Nutrition for Learning. Working hand in hand with the Food Banks has enabled Nutrition for Learning to add some awesome staples – salad kits and hot oatmeal, to name a couple.
Would you like to share a portrait of one of your volunteers or someone else working on the field within your initiative?
The principal at Central Public School in Cambridge. She has been with us every Thursday since the program started. She shows up every week and greets and speaks with every student/parent, checking in with them to make sure they are doing okay. She has been continually reaching out to parents from her school and has increased the number of families that come every week. Last Thursday, there must have been 25 families lined up when we got there.
Everyone at N4L is a community hero. Throughout this pandemic experience, I’ve met lots of positive and inspiring people who work and volunteer at N4L.
If I had to choose one, I have been with Neil most of the time… Neil has been a wonderful role model, patient and positive. He makes volunteers feel appreciated. Neil truly loves his job. It is very noticeable in his work and the smile he has every morning.
As the weeks pass, the need rises. I am noticing in some locations families are coming out and using the service more so than four weeks prior.
We have some who are coming out to pick stuff up for friends, family members and neighbours so they do not need to leave their home.
Do you have funny or happy moments in the field you would like to share with us?
Wednesday (April 15th) we stopped at St. Andrew’s Public School in Cambridge. In addition to everything else, we were giving out Bear Paws. Neil opened a box of Bear Paws and found banana flavour. When he asked the parent if her child wanted banana flavour, she started jumping up and down saying to her daughter, “We love banana! That’s our favorite flavour!” It was so funny to watch both mom and daughter get so excited over banana-flavoured Bear Paws. Neil gave them an extra box and she kept saying thank you, thank you, thank you!
The volunteers that I have worked with are amazing. No matter the weather or the number of families we serve, everyone always has a smile on their face. The more families we serve, the bigger the smile on our faces. Parents are greeted with respect and families are so happy we are there. They are appreciative that Nutrition for Learning is still there even though schools are closed.
Many have commented that Nutrition for Learning being there is bigger than just the food. It is an outing for some and to see happy volunteer faces makes their day a little brighter too.
This afternoon, I ran out to grab some groceries. A lady I have never met was walking out of the grocery store. She stopped and asked if I work for Nutrition for Learning (I am assuming she saw me get out my jeep, with the Nutrition for Learning magnets). I said yes, I am a volunteer. She was so thankful for everything we do. She kept thanking me and genuinely told me to stay safe… That’s what makes this so rewarding: how the community appreciates the service we’re providing to those in need now more than ever.
Across the country, through the COVID-19 Emergency Fund, Breakfast Club of Canada collaborates with community organizations to ensure children receive the nutrition they need during this crisis. Stay in touch for new stories on our #LocalHeroes!
Your donation can help make a difference – right now.
It is no surprise that food insecurity is a problem faced by many children and youth in Canada every single day. Before the COVID-19 pandemic more than 1 million Canadian children were affected by food insecurity, and the current crisis has put even more pressure on families to ensure their children are being nourished. This includes the 250,000 children who were receiving a nutritious breakfast through their school’s breakfast program with the support of Breakfast Club of Canada before school closures.
To help in combating this issue, the Club set up an Emergency Fund to reach children and youth outside of school by supporting community organizations, schools, Indigenous communities, and other groups supporting food-insecure families during these challenging times. Any community organization or school in Canada working to provide food-relief initiatives for children and their families were invited to apply!
Since then, the Club has allocated special grants to more than 800 organizations and schools! Whether it be through a mobile breakfast program in Kitchener, Ontario, food hampers in Northwest Territories or distributing gift cards in Vancouver, British Columbia, organizations and volunteers have stepped up to do their part. Creative solutions for logistics are being utilized and initiatives are being carried out through delivery, pick up, fly-in and mail, all while following public health guidelines.
These efforts have been made possible thanks to the generosity and altruistic spirit of our wonderful partners and donors across Canada. Thanks to their support, the Club was able to help support hundreds of thousands of children and youth in accessing nutritious foods during these troubling times. A job well done to all!
Toronto Foundation for Success, Ontario
On a normal day, over 200,000 kids across Toronto get nutritious breakfast and snacks through their school-based Student Nutrition Programs (SNPs); but these are not normal times. Schools are closed and children are still hungry. To help fill this gap, the Toronto Foundation for Student Success worked with various partners to find a way to get food out to kids who need it, in the safest and fastest way possible. “To date we have reached out to the families of 95,000 students. This is our Food for Kids Program,” says Sandra Best, Senior Director, Strategic Planning, Donor Relations & Communications at TFSS.
The Food for Kids Program is recognized as part of the City of Toronto’s Emergency Operation Centre’s food security response. Without the loaned resources and the team of 11 volunteers from KPMG’s Management Consulting practice Food for Kids wouldn’t have gotten off the ground. Without funding from donors – from individuals to wonderful organizations – they wouldn’t be able to fund the program. Without help from school boards they wouldn’t be able to get the message out directly to families or verify information.
“The initial challenge was to raise enough funds to nourish our children. This isn’t a new challenge, but it certainly is acute with the COVID-19 crisis.” The next challenge was to find a way, in a very short time, to effectively get support out to families. Food for Kids knew that families were going out to shop for groceries, so the idea of grocery cards that enabled families to supplement their budgets and get specific foods needed for their families was the best option.
So far, 70,000 food cards, representing 2,100,000 meals have been delivered directly to families, along with coupons for food. For the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, Food for Kids will send out additional support to these families as they become available. Sometimes a simple idea can make an enormous difference. With this initiative, families are able to buy the food they need to meet cultural and dietary requirements, while observing social distancing and maintaining dignity. According to Best, “We now have an excellent system to put in place if/when future COVID-19 waves emerge and for any future emergency situations.”
The program will continue through the summer for as long as funds are available.
“This really is a marvellous example of communities right across Toronto coming together to support our children. With our staff and volunteers from KPMG, we all feel a bit “blessed” to be part of this project!”
Umimmak School, Nunavut
Umimmak School, located in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, the most northern community in Canada, is a hub for student nutrition. For many of the 25 K-12 students, school is where you eat. The small community faces unique challenges to food access due to their extremely remote location on Ellesmere Island. Weather permitting, planes are scheduled only twice a week carrying fresh foods for the community, and due to the size of the hamlet finding employment is a challenge for the 140 residents. Umimmak School and the community are closely connected as the school offers a healthy breakfast every day which, for many of the students, is the one sure meal they receive. With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis and the school closure, teachers were deeply concerned about how students would access the nutrition they need.
Through her network in Nunavut, teacher Zuzanne Mignon was informed of the Breakfast Club of Canada Covid-19 Emergency Grant and knew funding would greatly benefit not only students but their families as well. Using emergency funds, the school now distributes a breakfast program replacement basket to each student that contains fruits, cereal, milk, peanut butter, eggs and of course, a helping of schoolwork. With the Breakfast Club of Canada Emergency Grant helping to fill the breakfast food gap, additional support from the local Food Bank and Co-op store has provided each family with lunch foods for a week and other household essentials like bleach, paper towels and wipes.
The school orders a barge of dry foods at the beginning of each year that fully stocks their pantry and now that the school is open to teachers, leftover pantry items are included in breakfast baskets. According to Ms. Mignon, the feedback has been very positive and she is welcomed with warmth, joy and sometimes tears when visiting students’ homes. Students will have to wait until the fall to return to school but there is hope that breakfast baskets will continue providing families with the foods they need during this challenging time.
Surrey School District, BC
Like all school districts in Canada, Surrey School District suspended in-class instruction to curb the spread of COVID-19. Though schools were closed, the school district was committed to ensuring that their students still had access to meals that were normally provided by their school-based meal programs. Prior to the pandemic more than 2,100 students used the district’s meal program regularly, so it was essential that the program remained running despite the change in circumstances.
With the help of school staff and volunteers, Surrey School district was able to adapt their programs and have been safely providing daily nutritious meals to students who are now learning from home. Operations have been set up in nine schools across the district, with a combination of drive-through and in-person pickup. Upwards of 3,800 healthy and nutritious “grab and go” meals are prepared and distributed daily.
“The continuation of the meal program during the pandemic was a priority for our district,” explains Laurie Larsen, Chair of the Surrey Board of Education. “In light of what’s happening globally, we didn’t want our students or their families to have one more thing to worry about.”
Though the program may not look the same, the goal to continue to feed and nourish kids still remains the same. Way to go to, Surrey School District!!
Now here’s a green idea from St-François-de-Sales municipality in Quebec for reducing a school breakfast program’s carbon footprint and helping students keep their desk space clean and tidy!
All students at École Boisjoli school received a reusable “école-O” placemat they can use to eat their breakfast in the classroom and bring in utensils from home.
Designed by a local craftswoman, the placemat comes with a zippered pouch and is made of lined, spill- and stain-resistant material. To take it home after they’re done eating, students simply roll it back up and put it in their school bag.
By using washable utensils for breakfast every day, students can do something good for the environment and keep more than 10,000 plastic forks, knives and spoons from being thrown out in the course of a year!
Breakfast Program During The Pandemic | Breakfast Club of Canada
Since the beginning of this school year, we have had the opportunity to exchange ideas, resources and challenges with several schools through email communications, phone calls and webinars. We know that it has been an uncertain start to the school year with many changes influenced by COVID-19. We’ve been doing our best to provide you with as much support and as many resources as possible to ensure that you all provide a nutritious breakfast to students while navigating changes and challenges. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to check out resources we shared last month: Recommended Single Serve Products, Sample – Adapted Breakfast Menu and our Toolkit – Breakfast Program Adapted COVID-19.
Here are some creative ideas introduced by a few schools that joined various Breakfast Club of Canada Open Houses (webinars). While they don’t cover every aspect of breakfast programming, they show that many of you have created out-of-the-box ways to navigate this challenging time and still provide a nutritious breakfast each morning! If any of you have additional ideas that you’ve employed, we’d love to hear about them – please don’t hesitate to share them with your Club coordinator, and thank you to those who have shared the ideas below with us:
When possible, some schools can use a pre-order menu for their class bins, where teachers/students know the weekly menu, and the class completes an order in advance. The class simply marks what they would like on the menu with the basket (x boxes of cereal for Friday) and bins for the classroom are stocked based on the orders returned with the baskets.
While some schools are not allowed to use vending machines anymore, some are looking to use them to offer pre-packaged, healthy items with sanitizing stations next to them, and use funding for administration to stock the machines so students can collect a free meal there.
Adaptive Menu Ideas
A school board restricted from serving any fresh fruit considered ordering through a distributor like Sysco (pre-packaged apple slices and fruit cups that are sealed individually). *We recommend the fruit cups that are packed in water as opposed to syrup, as these have much less added sugar.
A grocery store is doing delivery of cheese strings and vegetables that are cut up. Individual milk cartons are also delivered.
Freezing yogurt with popsicle sticks can eliminate the need for spoons.
Rather than buying cheese strings, a school is buying pre-sliced blocks of cheese and cuts the slices in two, pairing with whole wheat crackers.
One school that can prepare food purchased a cheese slicer and makes quick cheese sticks from the large block to add to individual snack packs; cheese is much less expensive that way.
Here are some highlights of questions and responses shared from schools across the country:
Q: How are you planning to serve breakfast now with COVID changes?
- The staff are scheduled to support the program as part of their responsibilities in the school. They prepare fresh foods and support clean-up at the end of the day. Bins are organized and teachers pick up their class bin every morning. Teachers are the ones who safely handle the food after preparation.
- Just one person in the kitchen serves kids at the counter restaurant-style, with a guided path – one in and out at a time. All food will be prepped, and students follow the arrows, choose their food and go.
- We are making breakfast burritos ahead, then freezing them. When taking them out to serve for breakfast, we warm in the microwave or warmer.
Q: Serving breakfast to 18 classes is impossible so I’m struggling to get food to students.
- That is why I give the food to teachers. There just isn’t enough time for one person to distribute to all the classes.
- I take my cart of foods to each classroom, so that I can check in and make sure that everyone is getting what they need.
Q: Are we allowed to reach out to organizations such as Knights of Columbus to ask for extra funding?
- Solution from a Club coordinator : Certainly! We always encourage schools to look to multiple avenues of support for their program to ensure that it is sustainable, and local groups are a great choice (Rotary groups and Lions Clubs among others).
The announcement of heading back to school after months of school closures undoubtedly caused some anxiety for school staff, parents and students alike. The unknown can be unsettling, and breakfast program coordinators at the schools had to act quickly to ensure students would still receive the nutrition they need to succeed. Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon, SK, shared how being flexible with their program model in these uncertain times has been key for their current program’s success.
Last year, their breakfast program was set up in a high-traffic area outside of the office near the school’s front entrance. Students would take breakfast from the breakfast station and then head to their classrooms. This model posed some challenges for the school this year, though, as they moved into a student-cohort model. Each cohort must use different doors to enter and exit the school, so they could no longer have breakfast in a single centralized space. Students and additional volunteers are also not allowed to serve food, posing a challenge for getting breakfasts ready and served to students each morning. Lastly, they were not able to serve food as openly as they did before and became limited to more single-serve type foods.
The solution for Bedford Road Collegiate was to start making individual breakfast bags for students and put them at all five of the cohort doors. The teachers already assigned to hallway supervision have been welcoming students into the school each morning and giving them their breakfast bags if they would like one. Because the school is not able to run their usual lunch canteen, the staff who typically runs the canteen has been helping to batch cook and prepare the breakfast bags for students instead. They are serving more individually packaged foods like yogurt, cheese, milk, fruits, cereals, and even homemade muffins and healthy breakfast cookies. One of their concerns when it started up again in September was not being sure how many bags to prepare each morning, but it seems the number of students accessing the breakfast program has not changed too drastically at this point.
Now that they have been doing things this way for a number of weeks, they have gotten into the groove and the program is running quite smoothly!
Here is the story of Sarah, who attended a breakfast program as a child and was deeply touched by the experience:
Hi! My name’s Sarah. I’m 20.
I’m writing to you today to say thank you.
I used the Club’s services when I was in kindergarten. My mom earned a good living and we always had plenty to eat at home, but when she got cancer, she had to go to work really early in the morning. So I was always one of the first kids at the daycare when it opened. Someone suggested she enrol me in the breakfast program, since what I ate at home at 5 a.m. was a distant memory by the time classes started at 9 a.m.
You changed my life forever.
The TLC you gave me when I was a little girl had a huge impact on me. You made me feel welcome every day. You asked how my mom was doing. You made sure my mornings were never dreary. I still remember when one of us would have a birthday, we’d get to pick a present out of a wooden basket.
I was devastated when I had to leave the breakfast program! I loved it so much! Even though I’m 20 now, I’m still grateful you took such good care of me.
I send a donation to the Club every year as my personal thank-you. That’s my way of making sure your services are available to another child who needs you as much as I did back then.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Keep up the amazing work! Don’t ever stop!