Editorial – National School Breakfast program a winner

For more than three years, the topics of food insecurity and affordability have been hot-button issues. Even longer than that, dealing with hunger in schools has been an issue top-of-mind for those affected by it.

Study after study published as far back as the 1990s has pointed to the simple fact that children who go to school hungry, or are hungry at school, are more likely to have negative outcomes. These include lower attendance rates, less participation in class, less concentration, lower marks, lower graduation rates, and a lower percentage chance of attending post-secondary education. Simply put, hunger in school erodes our future. Contrary to some political beliefs, this issue did not start eight years ago.

There has been some work on this by provincial governments. In January 2024, provincial MPPs were handing out donations from the Ontario government. The Upper Canada District School Board received over $200,000 as part of the province’s $5 million announcement. But this goes only so far.

To be clear, this is not just a city problem. Hunger in schools occurs in rural communities including South Dundas. All schools in this municipality have breakfast programs of some sort. The House of Lazarus sends weekend backpacks of food home with some families in South Dundas’ schools. Food bank use is on the rise. According to Food Banks Canada, one-third of food bank users are children. Clearly students need more opportunity and access to programs, especially in schools, to help combat hunger.

On April 1, the federal government announced its rumoured National School Food Program. The program directs $200 million per year for five years to establish new breakfast programs and support existing ones. The Canadian government says it will help provide 400,000 students with meals. There may be resistance to this program, as it is the federal government stepping into the realm of education, which is a provincial responsibility. Hunger, however, knows no political or territorial boundaries. A child in Morrisburg is no less worthy of equitable access to food at school than a child in Toronto, or Kamloops, or Halifax. Some provincial governments may say thank you for the financial support, others may see it as overstepping. That would be unfortunate as dealing with hunger issues should not be subjected to political gamesmanship between parties or rivals. Those most often caught in the middle are the ones who need the help.

It is convienient for political parties, in power or not, to use such funding announcements as fodder for a future campaign – please do not. Focus instead on the intent of the program and need it fills. A national breakfast program, well funded and accessible to all students, will most help those in need and improve education for all. That is a win.

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