Originally published on Mary’s Happy Belly
Type: Tour of school nutrition programs in Toronto
Address: St. Lawrence Market, 92 Front Street, Toronto; Ryerson Community School, 98 Denison Ave, Toronto; First Nations School of Toronto & Dundas Street Public School, 935 Dundas St E, Toronto
When I participated: October 21, 2015
Every now and then we get invited to events that really remind us of how fortunate we are to live in this wonderful city where there are (at least some) services in place to help those in our society who may not have the things that we take for granted–things we see as essentials–like a roof over our heads, a warm bed to sleep in at night, or a delicious meal to power our bodies and minds. Perhaps the most vulnerable of us when it comes to that last need are our kids. Thankfully there are organizations like the Toronto Foundation for Student Success [the charitable arm of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)] and their feed tomorrow campaign that are causing a huge impact and literally keeping kids fed day in and day out. What a thing to say your life’s work is, right?! Mary’s Happy Belly was recently invited to accompany a selection of Toronto’s media to learn more about the campaign and all the incredible work that’s being done.
My experience started at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday October 21 at St. Lawrence Market at 92 Front Street in Toronto. I was going to be joining a busload of my fellow writers and bloggers and set off on tour of 3 successful nutrition programs around the city. This event, as part of the 11th annual feed tomorrow week, allowed us to meet with the teams of staff, volunteers, parents, students, educators, and sponsors who together support 170,000 nutritious meals every school day!
Shortly after we boarded our adorable yellow bus (and giggled as we had flashbacks to our childhoods) we were on our way to the first school we were visiting — Ryerson Community School at 98 Denison Avenue.
On the bus I got to chat with Patricia Manousos, District Manager (Nutrition Services) with the TDSB, who told me more about the specific challenges they were facing with getting the program into as many schools as possible, and getting meals in the bellies of the most number of kids. As you can imagine, the biggest roadblock is funding. Although the Foundation is supported by all levels of government, various corporations, private individuals, and a number of agencies who providing funding, they still rely on contributions from sponsors and parents to bridge the gap. That is where events like these come in and why it was important that their financial supporters, like the Breakfast Club of Canada, or even smaller, family-owned brands like theSymposium Cafe Restaurant Group come see their impact first-hand. In fact, the Breakfast Club of Canada had just made a very generous donation of $545,000 to the TFSS that morning, and Symposium’s 20 locations contribute a portion of their revenues regularly to this and other causes.
At our first stop I had a chance to talk to two of the students who spend some of their school day packing the meals into boxes and delivering them around the school. They were enthusiastic when I asked if they enjoyed helping with the program and said they think it’s great because it helps them at school.
All the meals at Ryerson Community School were prepared on-site and from scratch. The meals include 3 or 4 food groups and this time around we were packing boxes with some fruit, cheese, whole grain pita rounds and juice for mid-morning snack. Lunch was going to be peas and rice cooked in coconut milk! Definitely wholesome and energy giving. Before we knew it, we had to say goodbye and head to the next stop on our tour.
Soon we were back to driving around the city in our balmy school bus and heading to First Nations School of Toronto and Dundas Street Public School at 935 Dundas Street East for a really unique experience. We were first greeted by a drum circle of students from the First Nations School and welcomed into the halls by their nutritional coordinator with tobacco and sage. After the smudging ceremony, the school’s vice principal extended her thanks and introduced a number of people who assist with running the programs between both schools. She also introduced the school’s unique training program where students from the Public School would train their younger counterparts on food handling and safety.
A lesson for the students on how to clean hands, top and bottom, so that they are being totally safe when handling food.
They even received certificates at the end of the exercise! The goal behind this initiative was to educate students with this important knowledge so they could make better decisions for their own health and well-being, as well as pass on that information to their friends and family. From the show of hands at the end of every questions, the kids were so happy to be there and taking everything on like sponges. I’ve never seen anyone explain a gluten allergy faster — let alone a 7-year-old. Apart from this training, we also got to visit the kitchens were the schools’ meals were prepared. Since both schools are so close, their meal programs are organized in tandem which allows them to benefit from economies of scale. This is particularly helpful when the diet served at the schools is exceptionally rich in nutrients and quality and is in keeping with traditional Aboriginal diets. This means that they can buy salmon and blueberries in bulk, and bake bannock and bread right in the kitchen! SALMON! Can you imagine eating salmon every day at school? Talk about brain power! All the meals were made with love by a smiling and welcoming group of volunteers who excitedly handed us pieces of delicious garlic bread that had just come out of the oven. Yum!
You may ask why this should be as important a subject as it is. Simply put, well fed students are more likely to graduate. Research also shows that students who eat breakfast produce better grades, are healthier, have increased motivation, are 50% less likely to be suspended and less likely to miss school on a regular basis. Talk about a high return investment! Especially considering that it only costs $1.50 to provide a child a healthy breakfast.
So what can you do to help with these programs. Well, to start, you can text BREAKFAST to 45678 and immediately make a $5 donation to the Breakfast Club of Canada. Then you can reach out to your city councilor and tell them you believe it is unacceptable that one in every three children in Toronto lives in poverty and 40% of all children come to school hungry each day. Unfortunately this is just the average — the figure can be as high as 68% in our most vulnerable communities. In fact, contact your MP (you should know who that is since we JUST had an election) and tell them that it is shameful that Canada is the only G8 country without a national school-based nutrition program. Share this post to spread more awareness and get more people involved.