Nutrition program organizers concerned students may be hungry over summer

With the end of the school year comes the end to breakfast programs across the city, and organizers are concerned some students won't be getting the nutritious food they need over the summer.

Many Hamilton families rely on city's breakfast programs throughout school year

A typical breakfast program in Hamilton will offer a mix of nutritious foods, including cereal, fruit, vegetables, eggs, oatmeal and dairy. (CBC)

With the end of the school year comes the end to breakfast programs across the city, and organizers are concerned that some students won't be getting the nutritious food they need over the summer.

Don Jaffray is the executive director of the social planning and research council in Hamilton, the group that oversees the Tastebuds student nutrition program. This past year, Tastebuds designed and supported 172 student nutrition programs at schools and community centres throughout the City of Hamilton.

They're distracted by their hunger.- Don Jaffray, Executive Director of Social Planning and Research Council, Hamilton

"We know for sure that some students would be hungry without this support," he said in a phone call on Wednesday. 

"There's all kinds of information coming back from schools that say, 'Look, the kids are not able to be effective learners, because they're too hungry,'" he said, emphasizing the need for these programs. "They're distracted by their hunger."

Concerns for the summer

The goal of these nutrition programs is to put an end to students' hunger, Jaffray said. Throughout the year, they're mostly effective, he said, but when the school year ends, so do the programs.

"There's certainly a gap in the support for access to nutritious food that is being provided to kids over the summer."

Although concerns are being voiced to the province and to local community partners, Jaffray said no plan has been developed to help bridge the gap.

There's certainly a gap in the support for access to nutritious food that is being provided to kids over the summer.- Don Jaffray, Executive Director of Social Planning and Research Council, Hamilton

​Tastebuds is funded by the provincial government. During the school year, programs are monitored closely by organizers, collecting stats and filing reports week after week. As long as the demand for a program is there, provincial funding will continue to flow.

Jaffray said over the past year the province of Ontario provided $812,585 in funding to Tastebuds. This covers about half the cost to run the programs, he said. The schools and community centres also fundraise throughout the year to help cover their own costs. This year, 1,269 people volunteered their time to help keep food on the tables for students across the city.

By the numbers

Here are stats provided by Tastebuds for the 2014-2015 school year:

  • 463,383 breakfasts were served
  • 2,565,329 morning meals were served
  • 73,093 lunches were served
  • 925,290 healthy snacks were served
  • 30,082 students per day were fed

These programs are provided to students of all ages, Jaffray said, from those in kindergarten to those in high school. They're also intended to feed students who bring a full lunchbox to school as well as students coming from families that can't even afford a lunch box, let alone food to put in it.

And it's not just about putting food in their bellies, Jaffray said. These programs are also designed to teach students about good eating habits and what nutritious food looks like.

Hoping students get what they need

Jordan Bailey is a coordinator at the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre at Robert Land. The centre runs a breakfast program and an afterschool food program Monday to Friday during the school year. 

On an average day, the program will see 15 to 20 students coming in for food, he said. Those same students will also be the ones coming by after school to grab some more food before heading home.

"A lot of kids, even with the breakfast program, they eat that one meal and they're still going to school without anything to eat for the day," he said. "If it weren't for [the breakfast program] there's a chance they probably wouldn't have anything to eat for the day."

Now that the program is done for the summer, Bailey said he has to trust that students' guardians will take over and provide healthy food for them over the next few months. 

A lot of kids, even with the breakfast program, they eat that one meal and they're still going to school without anything to eat for the day,- Jordan Bailey, coordinator at the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre at Robert Land

"We kind of just have to wish for the best," he said, adding he and his colleagues have to stay hopeful because there's not much else they can do until the new school year starts up again in September.

Next year, Bailey said the centre would like to have the breakfast program run throughout the summer so those who rely on it won't go without.

Chris Seto | @topherseto