Manitoba

Manitoba teachers push for free universal breakfast program for K-12 students

The Manitoba Teachers' Society wants the province to fund a universal breakfast program that would feed students in kindergarten to Grade 12 for free.

Union doesn't have an estimated cost for program, but says it's No. 1 priority

Winnipeg Harvest gives free breakfasts to students in three Winnipeg schools to take home on the weekend as part of a pilot project. (Winnipeg School Division)

The Manitoba Teachers' Society wants the province to fund a universal breakfast program that would feed students in kindergarten to Grade 12 for free.

The request is the No. 1 priority the union representing about 16,000 public school teachers has made to the province's kindergarten to Grade 12 review that's currently underway, said union president James Bedford.

"Most developed countries in the world actually have programs like this. It's a patchwork across the province right now. Many schools are doing nothing at all," Bedford said.

The idea is that all students would be fed breakfast, regardless whether they're rich or poor, to avoid stigma.

Bedford said having hungry students in the classroom makes it difficult to teach. 

"When their students are coming to class hungry, it's obvious their minds aren't on education. Their minds are on where the next meal is going to come from, so it's heartbreaking for many of our members who have to teach students who are struggling with poverty issues."

He recalled his time as a teacher in three different public schools where students were regularly hungry.

James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, wants to see a universal breakfast program in kindergarten to Grade 12 public schools. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"Some of the stories you hear are tremendously heartbreaking — students who are quite literally living in their vehicles, students who are far more concerned about where their next meal is going to come from than doing their homework."

Teachers often bring in food to feed hungry students and pay for it out of their own wallet, he said.

"In some of the schools I've worked in, it was a routine thing where teachers were providing food for students."

Empty brown paper bags filled the steps of the Manitoba Legislature Monday afternoon when he made the request. The bags are meant to represent children who go to school with no lunch.

Kate Kehler says it's been 30 years since all three major federal political parties stood up in the House of Commons and promised to eliminate child poverty. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Several groups, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, organized the event. Its purpose is to highlight a promise to end child poverty that's 30 years old.

Organizer Kate Kehler said Sunday marked 30 years since all three major federal political parties stood up in the House of Commons and promised to eliminate child poverty.

Bedford didn't have an estimated cost for a universal breakfast program in Manitoba.

Some schools already have programs through community partnerships.

Winnipeg Harvest has three schools currently in a pilot program that gives students breakfast to take home on weekends.

CBC News reached out to Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen for a comment. His office sent the following statement:

"The Manitoba Commission for K-12 review will be looking at various options and initiatives on how to improve education outcomes for students in kindergarten through Grade 12.

"Their report is due back to government this spring and we look forward to looking at their recommendations how we can better set our students up for success."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. This past summer, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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