New Brunswick

Hungry holidays: Without free school lunch, how will children in poverty eat?

It’s a problem that volunteers and staff at food banks and soup kitchens across the province are trying to solve.

Soup kitchens and food banks are struggling with how to feed children during breaks from school

Food banks and soup kitchens are trying to figure out how to feed needy children when they leave school for holidays. (Shutterstock/Africa Studio)

Hundreds of low-income children across New Brunswick rely on free school meals every day.

But what happens when school breaks for the holidays?

It's a problem that volunteers and staff at food banks and soup kitchens across the province are trying to solve.

One that keeps Mike Smith, a former teacher who runs the Student Hunger Program at the Fredericton Community Kitchen, awake at night.

He pauses and sighs when he thinks about what will happen to those children when they're not at school.

"I'm telling you, I know there would be kids that are hungry," Smith said.

The Fredericton Community Kitchen provides about 350 lunches to students every day.

Volunteers pack sandwiches, fruit and granola bars, and deliver them to 15 different schools.

On top of that, the kitchen packs backpacks full of food - enough to feed a family of four two meals - for students to take home on the weekends.

The backpacks help fill the gaps for more than 70 students every week.

Smith remembers how proud one of his former students looked when he took one home.

"He was standing up straight," he said.

"He had a big smile on his face. He had this look as if, 'I'm providing from my family.'"

The program sent students home with an extra large backpack this week, hopeful it will fill in some of the meals students will miss on break from school.

'Nobody wants to be hungry'

The Fredericton Community Kitchen provides bagged lunches for 350 students every day. (www.frederictoncommunitykitchen.com)
Smith worries it won't be enough.

The extra food will provide maybe two or three meals. But the break is two weeks' long.

"We haven't addressed that issue," he said.

"We're looking at it. I'm sure that if the families aren't able to access one of those other sources, it makes Christmas time tough for them. Nobody wants to be hungry."

In Saint John, David McCready believes there are enough charitable programs to keep children fed through the Christmas break.

"December is, as far as resources go in this city, is the best month for donations of food and other items," said McCready, the executive director of the Community Food Basket of Saint John.

More need at food bank in summer

David McCready, executive director of the Community Food Basket of Saint John, said many families needed extra help last summer, when students were on vacation from school. (CBC)
McCready is most worried about how to keep children fed through summer holidays.

The food bank sees a spike in need during the summer, when school is out and people aren't donating as much.

Earlier this year, the food bank surveyed its clients to see how many rely on free school meals to feed their children.

They found about 30 families who were going without, but McCready suspects the true number is higher.

"We weren't able to survey all of them," he said.

The food bank offered families with school-aged children an extra box of food in July and August and saw lots of families eager to accept the extra food.

With resources tight, McCready said the food bank hasn't decided yet whether it will be able to do the same thing again next summer. 

The Christmas holiday may not be as long as summer break. But for parents trying to keep their children fed, it's a challenge.

"Even for this two-week period, it is a significant burden, no question," McCready said.

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.

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