The people who run school snack and meal programs across the county have a lot on their plates.
At today’s kickoff breakfast at the Best Western, volunteers learned more than 9,500 children and youth are participating in 52 school nutrition programs under the umbrella of Brant Food For Thought (BFFT). About 450 volunteers and school staff will serve 1.2 million healthy snacks and meals between now and the end of June.
Funding comes mostly from the province, the city, and the Brant United Way, plus corporate sponsors like First Ontario Credit Union. The BFFT budget is more than $500,000 and most of that is spent on food.
Programs include daily snacks, grab-and-go breakfasts, or full, sit-down meals. Volunteers are usually parents, school staff, and people from churches or other community organizations.
“We want to make sure your programs are sustainable and high quality by providing the very best for youth in our schools,” BTTF program director Gisèle Budgell told principals and program coordinators. “We really appreciate all you do for families in the community.”
Provincial data shows school nutrition programs enhance student concentration and academic performance, reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and improve the eating habits of participants.
Tom Smith, principal of Greenbrier Public School, has seen the evidence firsthand. “Our program is a godsend,” he says. “And the kids just love it. We encourage them to try new things and eat more healthy foods.
“I just can’t imagine doing what we’re doing in the school without the nutrition program.”
Greenbrier’s snack program is run by 12 volunteers, including coordinator Lara Rockefeller. They serve 250 kids, including Rockefeller’s six-year-old twins, Lydia and Beckett.
“All of our volunteers are parents, except for those from Greenbrier Presbyterian Church,” she says. “We recognize the great value of the program, and we get lots of support from the staff at Brant Food For Thought who are always so supportive and professional.”
Much of the local work was spurred by 2012 data showing that 17% of senior kindergarten students were vulnerable or lagging behind in their physical health. Teachers confirmed children were coming to school hungry and struggling with low energy levels.
Since then, school nutrition programs have led to significant improvements but those in the front lines say there’s still a big need for awareness and more volunteers. The BFFT office has four staff members.
“We’re small but mighty,” says community development coordinator Nancy Waldschmidt. “We really believe in the work we do, and that makes it easier to help our partners.”
To donate or volunteer, visit brantfoodforthought.ca or phone 519-759-6164.
Submitted by Rick Gamble, Pastor, Associate Professor at Laurier Brantford and Nutrition Program Coordinator