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Food Prices 2: Relief Programs Now In Jeopardy

We’ve been following the human cost of rising food prices noting, especially, how the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. Now, relief programs designed to keep the neediest fed are feeling a serious pinch…

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So far, at least, Sandra Copeland is keeping her head above water running the the breakfast program at Carson Grove Elementary School in Ottawa.

As food prices continue high, she’s finding it harder and harder to feed the 200 kids she’s in charge of serving a healthy breakfast.

“I go to upwards of five different grocery stores in a week, checking the flyers, checking the coupons. Just being very, very careful,” Copeland told the CBC.

Even so, she’s on the verge of declaring some of her and the kids’ favourite foods out of reach.

“I’ve been very touch-and-go on the oranges recently. Cheese has gone up significantly; the yogurt tubes, the price fluctuates significantly. Years ago, the children loved dragon fruit, so that was a nice treat. I can’t do that sort of thing anymore,” Copeland complains.

Price squeeze impacts effectiveness

“If the kids come in and they’re hungry, they can’t focus, they can’t learn. And then where do we go from there?” Copeland says. It’s not just this that gets them through the day, but it’s part of it.”

School meal programs are funded by the federal and provincial governments. They’re administered by the province, which has overall responsibility for education-related matters. The budgets are set at the beginning of each year. School boards are asking for top-up funding from the province – and their municipalities, and even donations.

At the same time, more and more schools are asking to join the meal programs. Carolyn Hunter, director of the school breakfast program at the Ottawa Network for Education, says she has 200 schools on her list so far, and has a waiting list of 17 more. She just can’t accommodate more, now, with food prices where they sit and funding virtually static.

“It’s excruciating. It’s unbelievably challenging to say no, to be able to draw that line in the sand. But we know we just don’t have the sustainable funding to be able to grow those programs,” Hunter says.

Not a unique situation

The truly shocking thing is, many if not all school meal programs in Ontario are in the same position – stressed to their limit.

School is over out for the summer. But administrators are working hard to line up breakfast and other support grams for the fall. The question is… Will the funding be there for such programs? And will they be able to provide the kind of nutrition it takes to get hungry, growing kids through their day?

~ Maggie J.