A child sits at her desk in the morning, stomach growling, feeling tired and unable to focus on the lesson.
Without a nutritious breakfast before school, this is the reality for many students.
"It’s hard to just concentrate in general because all you’re thinking about is, ‘I can’t wait till lunch or I can’t wait till recess,’" said Grade 7 student Savannah Murphy.
According to BreakfastforLearning.ca, 13 per cent of Canadian children live below the poverty line; 31 per cent of elementary school students do not eat breakfast daily and 62 per cent of secondary school students do not eat breakfast daily.
Brandon’s Food for Thought program aims to tackle this problem locally by providing healthy breakfasts and snacks at school for students.
The program began back in 1998 on a trial period in two schools. It expanded to three schools and eventually provided the program five days per week.
Food for Thought has since expanded even more, now offering the program in 18 schools, nearly all of the schools in the Brandon School Division, and serves 32,000 meals per year.
"We’ll make sure that they’re provided with that nutritious meal that they need to get through the rest of the day, or even add to what they already have," said program co-ordinator Judy Seib.
Food for Thought offers breakfast programs at King George and Betty Gibson. Snacks and lunches are provided for students at the other participating schools.
"It’s nice because at home I don’t really have time to eat breakfast so it’s nice to have a nice home-cooked meal at school so you’re not late," Murphy said. "And it’s healthy ... It’s a great opportunity for a school to have."
Back in the 1990s, breakfast programs were just being introduced, and only available in some core schools. Now, the need seems to be more widespread, and Seib says it’s due to a variety of reasons.
"There’s shift work, there’s single parents, there’s the cost of food," Seib said.
The need could stem from a family being in a low-income or poverty situation.
"The cost of food, oh my goodness when we purchase the food for the program we can see the increases in prices every year," she said. "There’s not a lot of higher-paying jobs in Brandon, so … it just doesn’t always get where it needs to be."
Seib said whatever the circumstances, the bottom line is that kids need to be eating nutritious meals to be successful at school.
"We just want to make sure that these kids are ready to go, and that they’re focused … in class and learning so they can be good citizens in Brandon, and in our community down the line," Seib said.
Without breakfast, children are tired, their brains aren’t energized, which means they’re not focusing.
"If they’re not focusing they’re argumentative or not listening in class," Seib said. "You give them a breakfast, and they’re just different children. They’re paying more attention, they’re engaged in their classroom with their peers and their teachers. It just solves a lot of problems that kids have when they come and they’re stomachs are growling."
To celebrate nutrition month, Maple Leaf Foods announced on Monday it will be donating $175,000 over the next five years to the Food for Thought program.
"It’s a program that we believe in, not only with our own volunteers, but we also want to support it financially," said Brandon plant manager Morgan Curran-Blaney. "We’ve been part of it for a number of years now and it keeps growing and growing each year that we’re involved."
The announcement was made at King George School, in front of students in grades
1-8 who gathered in the gymnasium.
Maple Leaf provided hundreds of it’s new Natural Selections Protinis snack, which are individually packaged chicken and dried fruit. The Protinis, as well as sliced meat products will also be part of Maple Leaf Foods’ contribution to the Food for Thought program.
Seib said the donation of $35,000 per year over the next five years will allow them to take Food for Thought to a "totally different level."
"It’ll financially give us a little bit of security there as we reach out to fundraise each year," Seib said. "But they’re also going to be bringing more nutrition to the lunch table … new ideas, they’ve got a bunch of new snacks out on the market and the kids are just loving it today."
To get involved in the initiative visit brandonsfoodforthought.com.
Breakfast for Learning launched a social media campaign called #foodfight yesterday "to ignite an online fury over the issue of child hunger in Canada."
To get involved, throw a ‘food fact’ through the #foodfight hashtag over Twitter and Facebook.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin