More Central Alberta kids are coming to school with an empty stomach — they have had no breakfast and are bringing no lunch.
The need for free school lunches has risen by 25 per cent in the Red Deer region from last year, says an official from The Mustard Seed.
“If we can provide students with a lunch, that’s a big deal,” said Byron Bradley, managing director for The Mustard Seed in central Alberta — the kids can then focus on learning instead of their hunger pains.
It’s obvious many central Alberta families are struggling, he added. “Unfortunately, in October we broke our monthly record with 10,545 lunches going out to 49 schools in seven communities. And on Monday we broke our daily record, with 637 lunches made in one day for the three school divisions.”
Preparing lunches for the Red Deer public and Catholic schools and Chinook’s Edge schools used to cost The Mustard Seed about $2.50 a meal.
With rising food costs and inflation, these costs have now more than doubled, said Bradley, who was thrilled to get a $39,000 donation for The Mustard Seed’s school lunch program Thursday from the Red Deer Public School Division.
“Our goal is to make life more livable and enjoyable for children,” he added, noting this money will go a long way towards reducing the impacts of poverty in central Alberta.
Schools in Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Innisfail, Bowden, Delburne and Elnora get The Mustard Seed’s donated lunches. “What we do is a tall responsibility but also a great honour and privilege,” he added.
Red Deer Public School Board chair Nicole Buchanan said the $39,000 was leftover from a $250,000 nutrition grant the district received from Alberta Education.
Most of the government funds were spent on food supplies, including breakfast programs, at Red Deer public schools. But there was a surplus, and Buchanan said the district knew exactly what to do with it.
Many schools supplement the free lunches brought in by The Mustard Seed so that all students can be offered some food. This avoids certain kids feeling singled out, said Buchanan. “No child wants to say, ‘There’s something wrong at my house.’ They would feel they are letting their parents down.”
The trustee, who also works as an officer for Calgary Police Service, knows many families are now grappling with high inflation, rising interest rates, unemployment, the opioid crisis, and other obstacles. “I have never see it this bad, ever…”
Teresa Tataryn, principal of Fairview Elementary School, where Thursday’s cheque presentation happened, said her students include refugees, non-English-speaking immigrants, and mid-to-lower income Canadian-born kids. Across the board, “everybody is struggling,” she added.
The Mustard Seed needs volunteers who can assist in lunch making between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. weekdays, or who can help deliver these lunches to schools. Please call 403-352-8028 if you can help out.