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Demand for meal programs in N.S. schools spikes amid soaring food costs

Click to play video: 'Demand for school meal programs soaring'
Demand for school meal programs soaring
Demand is soaring in Nova Scotia for school meal programs amid high grocery prices. Skye Bryden-Blom reports. – Jan 25, 2023

Demand for school meal programs is soaring in Nova Scotia as grocery prices continue to climb.

Operators are reporting they need to make tough choices to keep up with the great need.

The Breakfast Club of Canada estimates one in three kids in Nova Scotia are heading to class hungry.

Club co-founder Judith Barry says on average more than 40 per cent of students in schools are now relying on food programs daily in Canada.

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She says it’s challenging for operators to keep up with demand.

“In some cases (it’s) 100 per cent of the school population that has one or two or three food items per day,” she says. “And in other cases, it’s a bit less, but it’s still available to all students, so that’s huge.”

Barry says many school programs are looking at options to stretch their budget with several months still to go before the summer break.

“They have to make hard choices like reducing the number of school days that the program can run or reducing the number of food items that they will make available to the students,” she says. “That is not what we want. We don’t want to cut in any way.”

Local groups say the need being felt in Nova Scotia schools is unprecedented.

Click to play video: 'School meal programs grapple with rising food costs'
School meal programs grapple with rising food costs

The Coordinator with the Nova Scotia Coalition for Healthy School Food says food budgets are strapped due to high prices and increased demand.

“In Nova Scotia, we have definitely been hearing that schools spent their annual budgets before Christmas,” Lindsay Corbin says.

She says a recent provincial investment of $2 million earmarked for emergency funding will help keep programs running and address urgent needs.

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Nourish Nova Scotia’s Executive Director says ensuring students have access to nutritious food is vital. Lisa Roberts says it’s important children don’t worry they’ll be judged if they need help with their meals.

“We really need to be providing food at school in a way that is dignified and is fostering of community and in a way that it’s an open invitation, ‘Are you hungry? Do you want to try this?’,” she says. “These are all good reasons to be eating food and providing food at school.”

The group also says well-nourished students are eager to learn and are able to reach their full potential.

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Advocates are anxiously awaiting a national school food program pledged by the federal government, saying assistance can’t come fast enough.

The policy has been in the works since 2021 and the online public consultation wrapped up in December.

They say it’s important for both provincial and federal governments to work together to keep food on the table.

“We’re very hopeful that in budget 2023 both the federal government as well as provincial will include increases in sustainable funding for school food,” Corbin says.

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