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Waachiye!

We are pleased to be celebrating a special victory: thanks to the close collaboration of the Eeyou Nation (Cree) in Quebec and Breakfast Club of Canada, more than 4,500 students in 16 elementary and high schools now have access to a school breakfast program! 

During our first visit to these Northern communities in 2013 to provide support and raise awareness, BCC’s Indigenous programs advisor questioned the longer-term feasibility of supporting so many large school populations in these remote areas. Eight years and one regional partnership later, and it looks like we may have figured it out!

Our adventure with the Eeyou Istchee schools (Cree Nation) began in 2011 with the support of the Wemindji community. It wasn’t until 2015 (Waswanipi) and 2019 (Ouje-Bougoumou) that other local Cree schools joined in.

Since then, both the regional organizations we work with and our advisors and coordinators have accomplished a great deal. Their hard work deserves our praise and recognition.

In 2017, we reached out to the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and, shortly after that, to the Cree School Board to join forces in setting up a universal breakfast program for all Eeyou Istchee schools. We are very fortunate to be working alongside strong leaders in both organizations. They have been, and continue to be, invaluable allies in making our shared vision a reality. Although 2019–2020 proved to be especially challenging with the arrival of COVID-19, our partnership has made it possible to keep making food deliveries to families with children in most communities.

We have seen many ups and downs along the way, but we finally opened breakfast programs in Chisasibi, in the two remaining Eeyou Nation schools without a program, namely James Bay Eeyou School and Waapinichikush Elementary, in December. Together these two schools have more than 1,000 students. The first food delivery to the community was awaited with great anticipation, and the programs have been very successful indeed, as indicated by their respective administrations:

“We have only had positive results since starting our breakfast program. Students are getting to school on time for a change, and they now have the energy to get through the morning!”

Principal, James Bay Eeyou School, Chisasibi

 

“The students’ basic needs are met, and they are more focused in class. They are happy to have good, nutritious snacks and look forward to them every day.”

Principal, Waapinichikush Elementary School, Chisasibi

Meegwetch to everyone who has helped make this happen!

 

Useful Links

A Club partner since 2018, BC Dairy provides generous bi-weekly donations of fresh dairy products to six Breakfast Club of Canada programs in Chilliwack and Agassiz, British Columbia, ensuring 500 students a day can benefit from increased food access in the region! Thanks to this project, the breakfast program coordinators at each of our partner schools can get creative with their meals and ensure their students have a nutritious and delicious start to their day! 

 

An integral partner in the BC Dairy project is Seabird Island Community School (Lalme’ Iwesawtexw) just outside of Agassiz, BC, part of the Stó:lō territory. With their large kitchen and full-time culinary staff, Seabird provides meals for 180 Kindergarten to grade 12 students per day, that’s over 1200 breakfasts a week! Coordinator Kim Smith has worked with The Breakfast Club of Canada to expand the reach of BC Dairy’s donations not just to her school, but to as many students in her community as possible, involving Agassiz Elementary Secondary School (AESS) and Agassiz Centre for Education into the project as well. Every two weeks, an order of fresh milk, yogurt and cheese arrives at Seabird, enough for the Club’s 3 breakfast programs in the region. Kim manages and separates the order and arranges the distribution of the food products, ensuring there is absolutely no food waste in the process. Her students’ favourite breakfasts are yogurt & berries, and scrambled eggs with rice, but they’re most excited about Chef’s Special days when their meals are a creative surprise!

Shannon Rigby-Jones (aka Mrs. RJ), the Nutrition Teacher at AESS, works closely with Kim to ensure their students across both schools have what they need for a successful breakfast. Mrs. RJ has incorporated her high school students’ Nutrition classes into their daily breakfast program. These classes prepare hundreds of meals per week, from tropical overnight oats with pineapple, to yogurt and berry parfaits, and protein boxes featuring fresh veggies, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. This school year, AESS has had to shift their program from a hot breakfast to a grab & go model to adapt to social distancing guidelines, but the good news is that with these new recipes, they are able to offer more meals than ever to their students throughout the day, and exercise creativity in the classroom by playing around with new flavour combinations every week.

“We are extremely grateful to The Breakfast Club, and BC Dairy Association for their generosity and on-going commitment and support of this very important project.  It ensures not only our children at Seabird, but children in surrounding communities as well are receiving the nutrition they need daily.” – Kim Smith

In Canada, March is Nutrition Month, and once again this year, Breakfast Club of Canada is seizing the opportunity to discuss all aspects of healthy nutrition. 

On the menu this week: the Nutrition Committee

Healthy eating lies at the heart of the school food vision. If going to school on a full stomach can help children maintain proper concentration throughout the day, it’s easy to see how a rich and nutritious diet can enhance their focus even more.

Constantly seeking to improve and further support the school breakfast programs, the Club counts on the assistance of its Nutrition Committee. Made up of Club employees whose expertise are in healthy eating, school food and food security, the committee acts an advisory board and a liaison body for schools and on-the-ground partners across the nation.

Working collaboratively, the committee members tackle issues and challenges that their respective communities and schools face. Furthermore, the committee works on developing resources and tools that help to further support the growth of all BCC school breakfast programs.

At the organizational level, the Nutrition Committee offers advice on food procurement, food access, and nutrition standards related to school food programing. For instance, the committee is currently working on developing a strategy to encourage social equity and diversity in breakfast programs. Nutrition Committee members also provides recommendations on food products, recipes and menus for those overseeing and managing the programs.

As we celebrate Nutrition Month, let’s show some appreciation for the work accomplished by the Nutrition Committee members!

 

Catherine D’Amours
Programs Support Advisor

Catherine works hand in hand with the Club coordinators assigned to the different regions of Quebec, where close to 450 breakfast programs co-exist. She ensures the various programs align and acts as an advisor who provides advice and opinions on best practices, tools and processes.

A nutrition graduate, she invites parents and teachers to be open-minded in the kitchen: “We shouldn’t hesitate to present variety on children’s plates, nor should we get discouraged if they don’t show enthusiasm towards certain foods. Tastes evolve quickly at a young age, and the sooner we educate children about healthy nutrition, the more we increase their chances of succeeding in the long run.” Beyond quantity and quality of ingredients, Catherine invests much effort evaluating how to improve the overall meal experience so to impact youth positively in their development.

Chelsey Hazelton
Senior Program Coordinator

Chelsey is the main point of contact for close to 90 schools in Nunavut, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and southern Alberta. The main focus of her role is to support schools to run high quality breakfast programs across the board.

Over the past three years she has witnessed the Club’s support increase in Western Canada, where the number of children reached by Breakfast Club of Canada continues to grow. All breakfast programs are unique in that they adapt to their local realities and needs, and the committee is a great way to discuss and collaborate on resources to support nutrition in programs across Canada. Because the region she covers is massive and includes several Indigenous communities, the inclusion of culture and food traditions in programs are high on her priority list. She believes that now more than ever, it is important to stay engaged at the community level to be able to respond to local needs as they arise.

Virginie Marcoux
Programs Coordinator, Montreal and Lanaudière (Quebec)

Virginie is the most recent addition to the Nutrition Committee. As a dietician, she is particularly interested in public health and food security. Her experience makes her an advocate against the feelings of guilt that many parents face. She feels strongly that getting kids to eat healthy is about balance and variety, not perfection.

Representing the Club on community-level engagement projects such as La Cantine pour tous, she sees her role as that of the facilitator of a complex multistakeholder network whose goal is to reinforce collaboration to give way to more cohesive and sustainable food aid services. Mindful of letting the community speak for itself and of allowing for a diversity of voices to be heard, Virginie approaches her work with sensitivity and scrutiny.

Maxine Lam
Coordinator, Manitoba and Alberta North-East

Maxine understands the realities of rural and remote communities, she completed her Master’s thesis at the University of Manitoba studying the sustainability of school breakfast programs. Her day-to-day role involves working closely and collaboratively with schools in both urban and northern communities.

A large portion of Maxine’s work is dedicated to food accessibility projects. Transportation and food availability are very real issues for some of the schools she supports, which in turn affects the cost and quality of products. Beyond her day-to-day work with schools, she is deeply motivated by the public engagement aspect of her work: “It’s important for people to know that the socioeconomic situation of families is not the only factor explaining why a child might go to school on an empty stomach. Many other factors can come into play.”

 

Are you looking for ideas of activities to do or recipes to try during spring break or Nutrition Month? Check out our recipe book!

An important aspect to school food programs is the support and togetherness they help to build in the school community. Meals and breakfast programs represent a social gathering space that can inspire feelings of belonging and community that are beneficial to the learning environment (Healthy Schools BC, 2014).

This year, the social distancing guidelines in place may be protecting students and staff, but they are also posing a challenge to the connectedness of the school community. After all, how do you bring students together while keeping them apart?

Many programs across Canada are seeking ways to increase school spirit while complying with these new restrictions. Initially, the Grande Prairie School Snacks Program switched from student-accessed community fridges to a system where meals were made available in the office upon request. However, they quickly identified that students were less comfortable eating breakfast at school with their new socially distanced service method. Fewer students were eating breakfast at the schools served by the Snack Program. The program leaders saw the reluctance and reduced attendance as a symptom of the stigma associated with child hunger.

 

“Once students had to start to ask for food items, it created a stigma.”
— Kari Pritchard, Executive Director, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools Education Foundation

 

The Grande Prairie Schools Snack Program uses a larger, centralized kitchen to provide breakfast to 12 schools that serve over 100,000 meals each year. Previously, the program delivered breakfasts once a week to community fridges at each school. Students accessed the fridges themselves, whenever they wanted. Since the community fridges would be an unsafe touchpoint in the current situation, the schools switched to a system based on students asking for breakfast in the office.

When it became apparent that the new program model was negatively affecting the school communities, the Snack Program took action to reduce the stigma experienced by students by changing their delivery system.

The Grande Prairie Schools Snack Program found a solution to this problem by re-creating their menu to suit classroom bins that would still be filled once per week. The bins have a selection of nutritious foods that are shelf-stable for one week or more. Their menu includes baked goods like muffins, cranberry oatmeal cookies and cheese buns; healthy snacks like their “monster mix”; and fresh fruits like oranges and grapes. By bringing food into the daily routine and into the classroom, the program has normalized eating breakfast at school. Since the change, more students have felt comfortable accessing extra food in the office, making participation in the school breakfast program more acceptable.

 

“I feel that by offering the classroom bins the students feel more comfortable with accessing food at the office as well.”
— Kari Pritchard, Executive Director, Grande Prairie & District Catholic Schools Education Foundation

 

It is important to consider that there are many ways to engage a school community, and breakfast programs are not “one size fits all.” Each school community has responded to problems arising from the new social distancing restrictions with creative, innovative solutions that help make their breakfast programs a success!

 

 

References

Healthy Schools BC. (2014). School Connectedness What does the evidence say? Retrieved from www.healthyschoolsbc.ca/schoolconnectedness.

Activating Change Together for Community Food Security. (2014). Making Food Matter: Strategies for Activating Change Together. Halifax, NS: Food Action Research Centre (FoodARC), Mount Saint Vincent University.

Man and children wearing masks while holding green compost buckets

Des Grands-Êtres elementary school in Montreal has put a planet-friendly spin on how they run their breakfast program. Mario Cloutier is the school’s drama teacher. Here, he talks to us about the impact of this environmental mindset and shares how important the breakfast program is to the student population.

 

“I’m the teacher in charge of the Green (Environment) Committee at Des Grands-Êtres elementary school. Below is an overview of what drives our school team to contribute to this initiative.

Students are excellent agents of change, whether it’s through setting up projects to protect the environment or supporting a sustainable initiative in the local community. I hope my answers to these five questions will give you a good idea of what we’re doing here!”

Mario Cloutier, drama teacher

 

What about your breakfast program are you particularly proud of?

Three or four years ago, we introduced a school-wide composting program. We have even put together a “green squad,” made up of Grade 6 students, who are responsible for emptying out the composting bins and putting them back every day.

What advice would you give to other schools who have green ambitions?

Kids are our future, and the environment should be one of the most important priorities for anyone who works with them. It takes a generation to create new behaviours. So today’s students are the ones who will eventually lead real and lasting change.

How has your breakfast program affected school spirit?

The breakfast program is essential to the development of our kids. It helps improve their learning conditions by making sure they have access to healthy snacks.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever heard someone say about your breakfast program?

Everyone has their favourites when it comes to the food that is served. Some are “the best.” Others… not so much. So sometimes we hear things like, “Oh, no. Not that again!” But we can also hear an excited, “Awesome! I love this!”

If you could invite someone famous to breakfast at your school, who would it be and why?

Greta Thunberg, to make our students feel even more inspired to take care of their environment. Or (even if they’re not exactly famous) the CEO of a company who’d be willing to build us a green roof!

child sitting at desk with an apple

 

We are proud to lend our support and expertise to schools as they adapt their breakfast programs in line with public health protocols. We hope this will enable schools across the country to continue making a healthy morning meal available to students in a nourishing and comforting environment.

Here are a few ideas and recommendations other schools and programs have shared:

  • Allow additional time for planning, preparation, monitoring and cleaning.
  • Focus on food that comes individually packaged or portion it out and wrap it in advance.
  • Various recommendations have been developed for each program delivery model (grab & go, classroom bin or cafeteria/sit-down), all of which comply with applicable protocols and help minimize food handling.
  • Compliance with hygiene and safety measures and health guidelines issued by your provincial government and school administration is essential to the operation of a breakfast program in the context of COVID-19.
  • Handwashing for all is required before and after students eat.
  • All tables and desks used for the program should be disinfected after breakfast using a proper sanitizing solution. Bins, dishes and any reusable utensils should be cleaned daily.
  • Tongs must be used to help safely distribute food to students.

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that Breakfast Club of Canada will continue to be there for children, no matter where they are. After all, food insecurity is something that knows no bounds.

Learn more about our Breakfast Program Adapted to COVID-19 Protocols by consulting our Toolkit for schools!

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Child smiling into camera

 

Last year was a biggie for our family: our only son, Cameron, started full-time Pre-K at St. Jude Elementary on the South Shore of Montreal. The bean adjusted beautifully and made friends with his little classmates, but it wasn’t until we decided to start volunteering for our school’s Breakfast Club that we really found ourselves becoming attached to our school.

It started as a one-morning thing, just to try it out. I’d wanted to find a way to volunteer at my son’s school, hopefully with him, so he could give back a little. And, given we were morning people, serving breakfast seemed like the perfect activity.

Meeting extraordinary people

When we arrived, we saw who was running the program: five selfless women, all with grown children who were no longer in elementary school, as well as a few teenagers, who together were feeding almost 200 kids. One of the adult volunteers was in her eighties, standing on her feet (by choice) to serve the juice and milk. There was another woman who kept the breakfast bin-filling – for the children who arrived just in time for school and ate in their classroom – right on schedule, and she always had an amazing group of older Grade 6 volunteers, who came into school early to help. There was even a teenager who was in high school and had attended our school a few years prior – he came to St. Jude as often as he could to help with Breakfast Club before catching his bus to start his busy day at Centennial High School. The program was spearheaded by yet another selfless woman, who had been at the heart of the school for decades. All of these incredible people made it possible for so many kids to start off their days with a healthy, filling breakfast (not to mention the smiles they received as they conversed with the volunteers they had all grown to love).

By getting involved, everyone wins … Especially us!

We were hooked. Even though we were late in the school year (it was April), for three months we went to Breakfast Club every morning. My son gained tremendous confidence getting to know the kids at his school, particularly the older ones he began to befriend, and I loved the hugs and smiles I got every morning as we handed out yogurt, fruit, bagels, eggs, pancakes, and more. This summer, all we talked about was how much we missed Breakfast Club, and we have loved being a part of the group again this school year.

Cameron, 5 years old

Breakfast Club also got my son excited to give back in other ways by getting involved in different philanthropic activities, such as fundraising for a few causes that are important to him, and signing petitions to help save his favourite animals: sharks! Keep in mind, Cameron is only five years old. It just goes to show that there is no age limit to giving back!

Children helping other children

Breakfast Club is so special to us. It gave us a way to give back to our school, and to feel connected to our student body as well as the teachers and staff. And it sparked something within my son to give to others, to find even small ways to help those in need and become active in our community. And nothing feels better than giving kids a great start to their day.

The other morning a child asked Cameron, “Why are you always working here?” And he replied, “I’m not working. This isn’t work. I’m helping. It’s important to help.” To which the child replied, “Can I help too?”  Kids inspiring kids… isn’t that what it’s all about?

Jennifer Cox

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Do you want to do your part for the Club?
To learn more about volunteering at a school, click here.
To learn more about different ways to give, click here.
Remember: $ 1 = 1 breakfast. All donations make a difference!

Do you have an inspiring story about the Club that you would like to share?
Write us here! We want to hear from you!

3 elderly folk posing for a picture

 

A while back, we shared Cameron’s story, a 5-year-old boy who regularly volunteers with his mom. In the article, Cameron’s mom explained how volunteering helped her son gain tremendous confidence.

Caroline Soucy, Breakfast Club of Canada’s Senior Coordinator, is delighted to work alongside these volunteers who rise above their age to further a cause they care deeply about.

One morning, at Bruno-Choquette School’s breakfast program, Caroline was washing dishes with 70-year-old Madame Pauline, a volunteer of 8 years. Madame Pauline was telling her how volunteering and seeing children contributed so much to her well-being.

In Madame Pauline’s words: “They’re polite and say thank you and please. It’s very heartening for us seniors. Yesterday, I was helping a centenarian, and this morning, I’m surrounded by 5-year-olds. It’s quite the contrast!”

Madame Pauline isn’t alone – she also volunteers with Madame Fernande. The two knew each other even before becoming Club volunteers in 2011. Their favourite routine is going out for breakfast together after their shift.

Then there’s Monsieur Roger – he was a new retiree when he started volunteering. He decided to get involved with the Club to fight boredom and feel useful. He’s proud to say that, in all, he hasn’t missed more than 7 days since starting his adventure back in 2004!

Between the three (Madame Pauline, 70, Madame Fernande, 77, and Madame Roger, 84), they have 231 years of experience and 31 as volunteers!

Thank you to these three exceptional volunteers who wake up early in the morning eager to make a daily difference in the lives of our program’s children!

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Do you want to do your part for the Club?
To learn more about volunteering at a school, click here.
To learn more about different ways to give, click here.
Remember: All donations make a difference!

Do you have an inspiring story about the Club that you would like to share? 
Write us here! We want to hear from you!

Women and teen smiling at camera

 

Did you know that, at Du Parc School, a student on the autism spectrum, Zacharie, is part of the breakfast program volunteer crew? Through his involvement, he learns ways to be more self-sufficient, make the most of his potential and experience the satisfaction of a job well done.

Here’s his testimonial:

Hi, my name is Zacharie.

A little over a year ago, I shared my journey as a child living with an autism spectrum disorder.

Do you remember my story? It started when I became part of a breakfast program. I even became a volunteer because I missed my friends so much.

I’m still at the high school and guess what? The program is still part of my life four years later.

I really enjoy volunteering, so much so that the experience leaves me feeling happy for days.

My mom says that I interact well with children and that I’m a great help.

I realize that the program has taught me to become more self-sufficient, not just at school, but also in my day-to-day life since I gained more confidence in my own abilities.

I can now operate my dad’s shovel loader.

I never thought I’d be able to do that before.

I shovel the house steps… without anyone asking!

These may be small things, but for me, they are great accomplishments!

I almost forgot… I even eat white cheddar cheese, cheese curds and white chicken chunks now.

I can’t wait to get back to the program!

A big thank you to Zacharie and his mother for sharing this beautiful testimony!

 

 

When she agreed to become the head volunteer for her school’s breakfast program 13 years ago, Linda didn’t have the foggiest notion of the long adventure that lay ahead. At the time, she was a member of the school’s governing board, which is why the principal approached her about taking over the reins of the breakfast program.

In this capacity, Linda supervises a team of volunteers so that breakfast gets served every morning without fail and the program runs smoothly and efficiently.

“Routine is important. So are organization and proper storage. A place for everything and everything in its place!”

She takes her role as head volunteer very seriously. She sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community and to build relationships with other volunteers.

“We actually do things together outside of the school. It’s such a great team!”

If you ask her to describe what makes a good volunteer, Linda will tell you it’s someone who is kind, caring and sensitive enough to “manage” all the kids that come in hungry in the morning.

As Linda explains so well, there are plenty of reasons why parents sign their children up with their school’s breakfast program:

“Lots of parents have to get to work early. With us, their kids can eat breakfast later, take it easy and hang out with their pals!”

Not only is the program a great help for time-crunched moms and dads, but the 149 students who use the service also get the chance to eat together, make friends and enjoy special moments as a group, like when everyone joins in to sing happy birthday to someone.

When asked to describe some of her experiences, Linda shared this with us:

“Three children from the same family were enrolled in the program. When they first started, they weren’t particularly cooperative. They actually had a reputation for being ‘difficult.’ But as the year went on, they started to mellow and their behaviour improved. I’m sure the relationship we built with them helped and had an impact on other aspects of their life, like how they did at school.”

Linda sometimes bumps into her young charges outside of the breakfast program environment – out shopping for groceries, for example: “When they see us volunteers, some kids run over and give us a big hug – to the great surprise of their parents, who don’t necessarily know who we are!”

And Linda is already starting to have an impact on a second generation of grateful kids.

“A couple of times, I’ve served the children of people who used to come to the breakfast program every morning.”

She notices that the number of registrations goes up as the school year progresses.

“There’s no reason to turn any child down. Everyone is welcome!”

For Linda, seeing happy, smiling and well-fed children every morning is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of the whole experience.

Thank you, Linda, for making a difference in the lives of so many youngsters for the past 13 years!