Normandeau School is determined to keep its free meal program available to students when classes resume in September.
Future funding for the school nutrition program is uncertain because the provincial government’s budget for 2019-20 has been delayed until October.
The Red Deer public pre-K to Grade 8 school is looking to raise $100,000 to maintain its breakfast and lunch program so students can focus in the classroom.
Monique Stennes-Koot, who has been teaching for 30 years, said poverty in the classroom is more evident with each passing year, and hungry students can cause outbursts, depression and withdrawal.
She said the nutrition program, which is available to all students at the school, so those without food don’t feel awkward, has made a world of difference.
“It’s a different kid in the classroom when their belly is full and they can do the job that they’re suppose to do, which is learning,” Stennes-Koot said.
“I have kids that are active at lunch and playing at recess. They’re excited when the food carts arrive,” said the teacher.
Principal Hans Huizing said there are students whose reading has jumped up 10 levels since the program began in October.
“Most kids go up one or two levels over the course of the year. We have kids that are happier. We have kids that are quieter because they know they don’t have to worry about the anxiety about where their next meal is coming from,” Huizing said.
He said the fringe benefits have also been amazing.
“The sense of community has grown, the sense of belonging has grown, the ability to know each other better. If you sit down and break bread with someone, you’re always going to learn more about them,” Huizing said.
Older students in food studies classes regularly help prepare the stews, soups and pizza for the program.
At noon on Wednesday, student volunteers delivered turkey and egg salad sandwiches, carrot sticks or orange wedges to classrooms.
Both Stennes-Koot and Huizing said the program’s success is largely due to Caroline Tindall, the school’s nutrition co-ordinator, who has been able to make meals from scratch at a cost of 54 cents per student per day.
Tindall, who is a Canadian Red Seal Chef, said for some students, it’s the only hot meal they get, and they often take home the leftovers at the end of the day.
“They know we have an open door policy. They come down here for fresh fruit. We have yogurt in the fridge,” said Tindall after three young students dropped by for freshly baked muffins and apples.
“It’s not their fault they’ve been put into this situation. We have moms that are trying to make ends meet. They are working two or three jobs and sometimes they don’t have enough for groceries.”
Tindall said she can’t let the program die and is prepared to go door knocking to raise the needed funds.
“I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
Fairview Elementary School is another Red Deer public school receiving school nutrition funding that is also looking for donations to help keep its program operating.