Fairview Elementary School parents appreciate the new nutrition program that provides free, healthy meals so no child goes hungry at the school.
“It’s pretty amazing. It blew us away. We heard about it and we were like, ‘Really they’re going to give them food everyday, and pay for it,’” said parent Lisa MacDonald at the official launch of the program on Friday.
MacDonald, who volunteers at the school at lunch, said lots of Fairview parents struggle to feed their kids, and parents at other schools are probably in the same boat.
On Nov. 15, the province announced the $3.5-million school nutrition pilot program. Red Deer Public and 13 other school jurisdictions each received $250,000 for one of its schools to pay for meals for the rest of the 2016-17 school year.
Jurisdictions were chosen based on greatest need determined by socio-economic status data from Statistics Canada. Results from the pilot will help guide nutrition programs for schools across the province in 2017-18.
Fairview had its universal, nutrition program in place by Nov. 21. Students can access free breakfasts, lunches and a take-home snack that meet cultural and religious diversity and special dietary needs.
Fairview has 225 students and 108 are English as a Second Language students.
Acting principal Kim Walker said a few parents have opted out because their children have special medical needs, or food sensitivities or allergies.
She said the program has already had a positive impact on students.
“What we’re finding is it takes a little longer for our Grade 1s to eat together, but they are a little bit better adjusted to make transitions between classes with a full tummy,” Walker said.
MacDonald noticed how students are trying different food through the program, including her daughter who wasn’t looking forward to shepherd’s pie.
“She came home and she’s like, ‘It wasn’t that bad,’” MacDonald said.
When their friends are eating the meals it encourages students to at least try a bite, she said.
Bev Manning, Red Deer Public Schools board chair, said she appreciates that the province kept its promise to make children a priority.
“We recognize that students come to us with very real and diverse and significant needs. It’s up to us as a community to meet those needs. It’s the right thing to do,” Manning said.