A volunteer helps at Jean Vanier's breakfast program. Picture supplied by the Angel Foundation For Learning.

Hungry for more: Scarborough’s student breakfast programs suffer from lack of funding

There’s a hunger to increase the amount of breakfast and food programs in Scarborough schools, a hunger that can’t be met because of lack of funding.

The Toronto Partners of Student Nutrition (a group which consists the TCDSB, TDSB, the Public Health Department, Food Share, the Toronto Foundation for Learning and their Catholic school board counterpart the Angel Foundation for Learning) placed a moratorium on division of the municipal and provincial funding. They’re funnelling funding into existing breakfast and food programs in schools and refusing any new applicants.

We realized if we slice the pie thinner, and add more and more programs, each school would be down to a nickle a day and we just couldn’t do that.

— Catherine Parsonage

This means schools in the Toronto/Scarborough area that want to start up a breakfast or other food program (such as snack or lunch) are waiting indefinitely.

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

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 9 cents from the city. The rest of the costs to run the program have to come from funding from groups like the Toronto Foundation for Learning and Breakfast for Learning, fundraising within the school and from parent donations.

With unexpectedly high demand from students to the programs and a lack of increased funding at both governmental levels, both the TDSB and the TCDSB 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 the 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 yogurt) 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 for funding from the government, but having obtained smaller grants 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 on a waiting list for funding. Joanne Benvenuti, student nutritional officer with the Angel Foundation, says between the two schools, roughly 400 students are affected.

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

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 absenteeism rates. Parsonage has 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.” Parsonage said.