It’s official.  Schools in Brantford and Brant County are getting more of the basics — nutrition basics, that is.  Along with a boost of colour.

Through the School Nutrition Initiatives Project, almost 10,500 students in 37 elementary and secondary schools get a free delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, white milk, or local apples, one day a week as part of their universal student nutrition program, which is open to every student in each school.  With the help of funding from Aberdeen Health & Community Services Foundation, Brant Food For Thought purchased durable red totes for the School Fresh Produce Box Initiative and stackable blue milk crates for their White Milk Program.

“I’m excited about this project”, says Gisèle Budgell, Program Director at Brant Food For Thought.  “We have three distinct initiatives that are projected to provide 450 boxes of whole fruits and vegetables, 614 bushels of apples and 50,490 cartons of white milk for this school year alone.”  The initiatives are not only providing the greatest nutritional benefit to children and youth already participating in a  student nutrition program, but the volunteers are reaping the added benefit of large volumes of fresh produce and milk delivered directly to their schools at no extra cost.

Budgell is grateful to the Aberdeen Foundation‘s generous grant, a small portion of which was used to invest in much needed infrastructure for the initiatives.  “We purchased durable milk crates in bright blue and stackable bright red totes for produce, along with labels bearing the tag line, “Feeding Student Success”, and identifying the generosity of the Aberdeen Foundation.”

Along with enhancing the healthy development of children and youth, the project helps schools comply with provincial guidelines insisting nutrition programs provide a whole fruit or vegetable and milk, or milk product, at every snack or meal.  Since deliveries are made directly to participating schools, the project also eases the load on volunteers who would otherwise have to shop for large amounts of milk and produce.  Budgell reaffirmed the role of Brant Food For Thought in the community.  “We’re here to provide support to our volunteers and give them the tools and resources they need to meet the nutritional guidelines and to run their programs successfully.”

(Pictured above L to R:  Darryl Casey, Principal Lansdowne-Costain School; Jennifer Strome, Brant County Health Unit; Leah Van Sickle, FirstOntario Credit Union; Christine Susa, FirstOntario Credit Union; Tom Irvine, FirstOntario Credit Union; Sherron Birkett, Board President Brant Food For Thought; Gisèle Budgell, Program Director Brant Food For Thought; Tara Roy, Forte Produce; (back row) Diana Tedford, Brant Food For Thought; Lynn Hewitt, Aberdeen Health & Community Services Foundation; Sean Balog, President Forte Produce and Andrew Demers, Forte Produce.

Community members and stakeholders gathered outside the Forte Produce location to officially launch the School Nutrition Initiatives for this school year.  Run by Brant Food For Thought, the project gets its food from the local supplier.  For Forte Produce company president Sean Balog, it’s personal.

“I’m the father of two young children not quite ready to attend school,” he says. “My hope is that the staff and volunteers at whatever school my children attend will be as passionate about nutrition and helping students succeed as what I have seen with the Brant Food For Thought school professionals and volunteers.”

Several corporations and foundations are covering the project’s $75,000 cost for this school year, including: FirstOntario Credit Union, the Aberdeen Health and Community Services Foundation, the City of Brantford, the Grocery Foundation, the Brant County Health Unit, the Stephen Smith and Dorothy Woltz Foundation, the Losani Family Foundation Fund through the Hamilton Community Foundation, Brantford Volkswagen, and the Roger and Edith Davis Foundation.

“At FirstOntario, we show our commitment to strengthening communities by reinvesting our profits locally and through the power of our Blue Wave employee volunteers,” says Tom Irvine, director of community impact for the credit union. “Youth health and wellness — specifically student nutrition and the importance that locally grown, healthy food plays in the success of students at school — are top priorities for us.”

Brant Food For Thought’s program director Gisèle Budgell says milk, fruits and vegetables at school improve both health and academic performance while increasing the use of those foods at home.

“This is a tangible project for our community partners to get involved in.  We’re excited about working together with our schools and generous donors to support more access to foods that promote the healthy development of children and youth and enhance their ability to learn and reach their full potential”.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        (Story co-contributor – Rick Gamble)