Originally published on the Growing Up Great blog.
Every single school day, ONFE’s School Breakfast Program greets 13,500 K-12 students at school, and offers them a nutritious meal. It’s our goal that all children and youth are set up to succeed in their day of learning, and we know that hungry kids can’t learn.
It’s hard to imagine that in an affluent city like Ottawa there are children that would start the school day hungry if there weren’t breakfast programs in schools. It may seem like an issue that only affects certain areas of the city. But in fact, ONFE’s School Breakfast Program serves almost every neighbourhood in Ottawa. In fact, 10% of the student population accesses the program from kindergarten all the way through grade 12.
Our School Breakfast Program provides over 2.5 million healthy meals in Ottawa per year – with room to grow. In the past 3 years alone, 35 schools and 1,000 breakfast participants were added to the program.
There are many reasons why a child or youth may be at risk of coming to school hungry. One of the most important factors is financial. Did you know that one in five children in Ottawa live below the poverty line? Of the 206,000 children and youth in Ottawa, that’s 41,200 kids! When important bills like rent and utilities must be paid, food can be one of the first expenses that a family struggling with low-income must cut. There are many reasons why a family might find themselves struggling financially: living on fixed disability incomes, new Canadian families getting established, income earners battling illness, or single-parent families. Any of these and for many other possible reasons that could happen to any of us, coupled with constantly rising food costs, contribute to the current situation where as many as 28,000 children and youth enrolled in one of Ottawa’s four public school boards are living below the poverty line.
The Breakfast Program doesn’t discriminate or stigmatize. An important aspect of our program is that of ‘universal access.’ The School Breakfast Program wouldn’t work if students felt stigma when they attended, and so we don’t screen our participants. We want to make sure every student feels welcomed into a warm community space, where they can eat breakfast with friends before starting the day prepared to succeed in their school day.
In fact, research confirms that children who eat a healthy breakfast engage more in class, perform better academically, and have better attendance and fewer behaviour issues. In Ottawa, 90% of principals surveyed agree that students who participate in the program appear happier and more engaged in their daily learning and activities. The Breakfast Program is more than a band-aid solution. We know that children and youth who participate have access to the nutrition they need to make the most of their day at school. By serving the School Breakfast Program with the help of our amazing community partners, ONFE is helping our children and youth to grow up great.