Hungry for more

Breakfast programs in Scarborough high schools suffering from a lack of funding

Lack of funding is preventing the growth of breakfast and food programs in Scarborough schools.

The Toronto Partners for Student Nutrition (TPSN) — a group consisting of both Toronto school boards, the Toronto public health department, FoodShare, the Toronto Foundation for Learning, and its Catholic school board counterpart, the Angel Foundation for Learning — placed a moratorium on the division of municipal and provincial funding that provides subsidy for existing breakfast and food programs in schools.

TPSN is refusing new food program applicants from schools in the Scarborough and Toronto area for an indefinite period.

“We realized if we slice the pie thinner, and add more and more programs, each school would be down to a nickel a day and we just couldn’t do that,” said Catherine Parsonage, executive director and CEO of the Toronto Foundation for Learning.

“Unfortunately, the [TPSN] decided that to keep programs going at all, it was going to have to place a moratorium, and that was a heartbreaking thing to have to do — to say the funding’s not growing, we can’t start anymore.”

Parsonage said programs that used to get at much as 40 cents a meal from provincial and municipal funding now get a little less than 20 cents a meal, with about 10.5 cents coming from the provincial government and nine cents from the city.

The rest of the programs’ funding has to come from groups like the Toronto Foundation For Learning and Breakfast for Learning, fundraising within schools, and parent donations.

With unexpectedly high levels of students joining the programs and a lack of increased funding at both governmental levels, the school boards are struggling to maintain the food programs that already exist.

“It’s not enough,” Parsonage said. “[Food costs] have gone up 14 per cent in the last two years.”

To be eligible for government funding, schools must follow regulations on what is served. One whole grain, such as a whole grain pita or bagel, one fruit, and one dairy (either milk, cheese or yogourt) must be given to each student.

Of the eight Catholic secondary schools in Scarborough, only five have breakfast programs: Blessed Mother Teresa, Francis Libermann, Neil McNeil, Jean Vanier, and Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II is still waiting on funding from the government, but having obtained smaller funds through the Angel Foundation for Learning and a program called Breakfast for Learning, they run a program on a much smaller scale.

Two Catholic schools, Mary Ward and Cardinal Newman, are waitlisted for funding.

Joanne Benvenuti, Angel Foundation’s student nutritional officer, said that between the two schools, roughly 400 students are affected.

“Over 70 per cent of students arrive at school having not eaten,” Benvenuti said.

“Being able to focus in class and to produce well is directly related to how you’re feeling and what you’ve had to eat, so providing a really nutritious meal at the beginning of the day is really important to helping them function well in school.”

According to Parsonage, what’s needed is federal funding for breakfast programs.

On May 11, the TDSB is releasing a study detailing the effects of nutrition programs on students, namely increased attendance and credit accumulation, and falling suspension and absentee rates. Parsonage hopes that this will draw the federal government’s attention.

“[Canada] is the only westernized country in the world that doesn’t have a national nutrition program,” she said.