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Many Central Alberta students starting the new school year hungry

Bowls for Bellies to raise money for Mustard Seed’s school lunch program
Mustard Seed has been running the free school lunch program for seven years. (Advocate file photo) The Mustard Seed school lunch program has been busy as school gets underway. (Advocate file photo)

The demand for free student lunches provided by The Mustard Seed was higher than expected as classes got underway this week.

Food services supervisor Barbara Bosch said that typically requests for lunches start out low at the beginning of the school year and gradually climb.

But on Tuesday about 470 lunches were distributed to schools in Red Deer and nearby communities after reaching a peak of about 600 a day in June.

“It is pretty high for the beginning of the year. I thought it would be under 300,” Bosch said.

“Some schools this school year are starting right off the bat with what they ended off with. That’s unusual.”


The Mustard Seed honours donors, volunteers at Seeds for Hope Celebration

During the 2022-23 school year, a total of 94,744 sandwich lunches went out to 46 schools in Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Bowden, Innisfail, Delburne, and Elnora.

The opening of St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School in the city adds one more school to the list this year.

Bosch foresees a growing demand as families continue to face rising costs.

“Some families just can’t make ends meet with all of their bills.”

Sometimes that free lunch is all kids have to eat all day, she said.

“If they didn’t have our lunch in school, they wouldn’t have anything. And if there are leftovers from what we send, some kids ask to take it home so they can feed mom and dad and that’s heartbreaking.”

Over the summer Mustard Seed offered a food hamper program for children who participated in the school lunch program. At least 22 hampers went out each week.

“It was very successful. There was great need for the hamper program.”

She said it was the first time the charity worked with school liaisons who delivered most of the hampers. Some were also picked up by families.


Red Deer Polytechnic celebrates 2023 Employee Awards of Excellence

One lunch costs about $3.85 to provide and Mustard Seed is hosting Bowls for Bellies on Oct. 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Red Deer Polytechnic to raise money to support the school lunch program.

Chefs from local restaurants will compete for the “Bowly Grail” trophy and title of best soup in the Central Alberta. The public is invited to come out and taste what the cooks have to offer to help feed students.

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Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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