Tuesday April 25, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Updated 6:30 pm]
by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc. | Island Social Trends
Kids get meals and snacks at school, and four provincial government ministers came to check it out.
The school kitchen visit today at George Jay Elementary School in Victoria was fun and exploratory for Education and Child Care Minister Rachna Singh, Agriculture and Food Minister Pam Alexis, and two local MLAs — Transportation Minister Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake) and Minister of State for Child Care Grace Lore (Victoria-Beacon Hill).
Leading the tour was school principal Sarah Winkler. Kitchen staff and volunteers were on hand.
As many as 70 students of the 460 school population (Kindergarten to Grade 5) take part in the food support program, up from 50 last year. Winkler calls this evidence of “increasing need”.
The students who are signed up in the program get breakfast and lunch. All students can enjoy healthy snacks like fruit during the day at school. Weekend take-home food kits (provided by Backpack Buddies) are provided to students who are on the program. Parents sign up their kids for the program as desired.
“This is a needs-based program, for our students who need support at home,” said Winkler. “They sign up at no charge.”
“Parents are thrilled that this is a pressure we can take off their plates,” said Principal Winkler, in response to a question from Minister Singh.
There is a Monday-Wednesday-Friday program, and a Tuesday-Thursday program. There are two veggie choices, two fruit choices, milk and a protein source (cheese with crackers on M-W-F, sandwiches on Tu-Th). Plates are provided at the kitchen door, and students queue up to make their choices from the staff person or volunteer at the door.
For students who don’t have fluent English there are pictures of food on display and staff help guide their selection by also holding up the food as an option.
Stigma to needing food security support from their school is avoided by any child being able to arrive at the kitchen during the noon hour. The Grade 1 to 5 kids take their plates back to their classrooms to eat with their peers. Lunch plates for the Kindergarten students are delivered to their classroom by staff, to make transit of the food a bit easier.
Kids who have forgotten their lunch or didn’t get enough lunch are welcome to partake.
Thanks to the Family Affordability Fund this year (announced in August 2022 for the 2022-2023 school year) families can come and eat together on Friday mornings. It’s a welcoming community environment.
Breakfasts are funded through donation at this time. There are hot and cold options five mornings a week. Kids come into the gym and everyone eats together.
Feeding Futures fund:
The recent Feeding Futures provincial investment toward school food programs (announced April 4 in Richmond) was being celebrated in Victoria with this mini media event.
More children and youth will have access to healthy meals and snacks at school through the Province’s new Feeding Futures funding, which invests in building and expanding local school food programs.
“As busy parents deal with global inflation, school food programs can help reduce the pressure on their wallets while tackling student hunger,” said Rachna Singh, Minister of Education and Child Care on April 4. “Working with local schools to make sure our kids are fed and ready to learn will make a real difference for families and communities.”
Through Budget 2023, the Province is investing $214 million over three years so school districts can create or expand local food programs in schools throughout BC. The funds will be used for purchasing food and hiring dedicated staff to coordinate providing meals and snacks to students. This is the largest investment in school food programs in the Province’s history.
Back in March Premier David Eby and Minister Alexis announced $200 million for food sustainability initiatives across BC.
Guidance for school programs:
The Province has developed a new website, Build a School Food Program, to provide guidance to school districts on creating new food programs in their schools.
Each school will be paying attention to their particular kitchen setup, food sources and product availability, staffing and volunteers, parents signing up their children, physical space for where lunches can be eaten or distributed from.
Provincial funding distribution:
George Jay Elementary is in the downtown area of Victoria, near the Hillside area. That’s a Greater Victoria School District 61 (SD61 school), for which the catchment falls in both the Victoria-Beacon Hill riding (MLA Grace Lore’s two children attend that school in her riding — they both stopped by to see her during the Ministers’ tour) and Victoria-Swan Lake (MLA Rob Fleming).
===== ABOUT THE WRITER & ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Mary P Brooke is the editor and publisher of Island Social Trends as published daily at islandsocialtrends.ca.
She has been covering politics, business, education and communities through a socioeconomic lens since 2008 on south Vancouver Island (previously as West Shore Voice News, and before that both Sooke Voice News and MapleLine Magazine).
Ms Brooke followed and wrote extensively about the COVID pandemic during 2020-2022, and continues to follow the topic as new developments arise. She has covered Sooke School District 62 (SD62) in depth since 2014 and BC education more broadly for over 10 years.
Among other qualifications, Ms Brooke holds a health sciences B.Sc. (Foods & Nutrition), a university Certificate in Public Relations, and an industry certificate in digital marketing.