Manitoba

More weekend meals for more kids: Breakfast program expanded by Winnipeg Harvest

More hungry schoolchildren in Winnipeg are getting help from the city's largest food bank.

Breakfast2Go packages include handwritten notes of affirmation to nourish self-confidence

Winnipeg Harvest launched Breakfast2Go in November 2018 at Mulvey elementary school in the Wolseley neighbourhood. (Winnipeg School Division)

More hungry schoolchildren in Winnipeg are getting help from the city's largest food bank.

Winnipeg Harvest's Breakfast2Go, a pilot program launched last year to provide meals to students on weekends, has two more schools joining the fold.

The program started at Mulvey School in the Wolseley neighbourhood and is now expanding to Pinkham and Victor H. L. Wyatt schools.

"This is a success and not only for the students, but also for our community, for Winnipeggers," said Keren Taylor-Hughes, executive director of Winnipeg Harvest.

"We look at ways that we can break the cycle of poverty and studies show us that if kids are entrenched in school and they're eating and they're healthy, they will learn and be more successful — better test scores, more self-esteem and also they will finish high school.

"When you're not finishing high school, your opportunities for the future are very limited."

With three schools now taking part in Breakfast2Go, 750 students will have weekend meals, Winnipeg Harvest officials say. (Marcy Markusa/CBC)

Fuelling children for learning means creating strong citizens for the community, Taylor-Hughes said.

A lack of nutritious food also puts children at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, she said.

Pinkham School, near Health Sciences Centre, was chosen to be included because it is in an area with the second-highest child poverty rate in Canada.

Victor H. L. Wyatt is in a lower-income pocket of the St. Vital neighbourhood.

Filling a gap

The Breakfast2Go program started after a suggestion was made by a nurse practitioner at Mulvey who was acutely aware of the need for good nutrition for growing bodies and minds.

Many schools in the city have breakfast programs before classes begin for the day, but students are left to fend for themselves on weekends.

Nurse practitioner Parusia Purohit approached Harvest, the Breakfast Clubs of Canada and Winnipeg School Division and got the ball rolling.

The program, which launched the second week of November 2018, gave students the opportunity to take home two breakfast packages for the weekend, made up of meals that require little to no adult supervision to prepare.

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it steadies blood sugar levels and fuels both the brain and body," Purohit said.

All 370 Mulvey students were given the option of taking part and the expectation was that at some point over the year, some would opt out, Taylor-Hughes said.

"We were quite surprised that every single week, every single student took a bag home. That really told us there was a need," she said.

"We were really happy to see it was helping to fill a gap."

School attendance went up, sick days decreased, test scores increased, self-esteem was boosted and student behaviour improved, with kids listening better, Taylor-Hughes said.

"We also saw a decrease in the need for the breakfast program on Monday mornings because kids … weren't in that dire straits where they had to come in and have a big breakfast because they hadn't eaten all weekend," she said. 

By the end of the pilot program, about 10,000 packages were handed out, assembled with the help of school volunteers.

In addition to the food, the packages include handwritten notes of affirmation to nourish self-confidence.

They're written not only by school staff and community volunteers but also by members of the public — Winnipeg Harvest takes a mobile "affirmation station" to events in the city — and by high school students. Garden City Collegiate has affirmation stations in classrooms and the notes are passed on to Harvest.

With three schools now taking part in Breakfast2Go, 750 students will have weekend meals, Harvest said.

Harvest is now exploring possibly expanding the program to a rural school next year.

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