Demand for P.E.I. school food program is 4-times higher than when pandemic started

Students registered in the program get one meal and snacks, every day, seven days a week.

'The numbers are kind of speaking for themselves right now'

One of the meals made in the province's school food program. (Submitted by Steve Wilson)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a huge increase in the number of Islanders who are asking for help in providing meals for their families.

Demand for the school food program, for example, has increased by four times what it was when the pandemic restrictions first hit P.E.I., closing schools and leading to layoffs.

The school food program was launched as a pilot program in January, but due to the pandemic, the province extended it to be available to families at home.

Students registered in the program get one meal and snacks, every day, seven days a week.

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson with the Department of Education said during the week of March 23, 194 children were fed with 1,358 meals provided.

By the last week of April, that number climbed to 858 students and 6,006 meals. The program is available province-wide.

The province says most schools are participating in the program and that anyone wanting to register can call 902-368-5155 or email

'I'm turning volunteers away'

In addition, individual schools are stepping up to deliver food hampers to families. The hampers are another food-based initiative the province launched in the last few months.

In mid-April, the province, along with the P.E.I. Potato Board and Amalgamated Dairies Ltd., handed out 3,000 bags of potatoes, blocks of cheese and cartons of milk. The following week, they handed out 4,500 more packages.

When the Public Schools Branch found out about the food hamper initiative, it wanted to get involved, according to Murray MacInnis, the counselling consultant at the Public Schools Branch.

This past weekend, school staff delivered 850 food hampers, containing milk, cheese, butter and potatoes to families in need.

"I had been talking to some schools and we found out that some families … didn't have vehicles, or didn't know about it," he said.

"Or they weren't going for it because sometimes, they're you know, a little hesitant to just reach out for that kind of support."

MacInnis said he's helping to co-ordinate the hampers and said it was clear there was great demand.

He said said school staff have been going above and beyond to help students and families. 

"People are really wanting to do more," MacInnis said.

"When we put a call out to schools, it's unbelievable. I'm turning volunteers away."

Nick Martin, the principal of Parkside Elementary in Summerside, a school that takes part in the food hamper program, said because of the pandemic, he's received more requests from parents needing help to feed their families.

"I think every school has a demographic where we know that there's some families that might not be as privileged as others," he said.

"As soon as we knew that there would be families that would be losing jobs, losing opportunities for an income, we knew full well that there'd be families that could use some assistance."

Nick Martin, the principal at Parkside Elementary, says it's hard to know exactly how great the need is. (Submitted by Parkside Elementary)

Martin said the school has 360 students from kindergarten to Grade 6.

He said at the end of April, school staff helped distribute seven food hampers. Since then, Martin said requests for the hampers have tripled to 22 families.

"One of the things I had anticipated was that as this continued on … the pinch was going to start to hit some families," he said.

"And so the numbers are kind of speaking for themselves right now."

I'm really proud of this initiative.— Nick Martin, Parkside Elementary principal

Martin said one of his staff members approached him wanting to do more for families.

So staff, and the school's home and school association raised money to provide $2,000 worth of grocery gift cards to families.

"I'm really proud of this initiative," he said.

Martin said principals across the province have been meeting frequently during this time, and said the need for food is often a common theme in these conversations. 

He said it's hard to know exactly how great the need is, but said he's heard from many parents just how grateful they are for the extra support. 

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


Isabella Zavarise is a video journalist with CBC in P.E.I. You can contact her at