By Bryce Forbes
Everyone was told growing up that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
For students of Robert Moore School, there is a breakfast program for any who may not have the opportunity to fill their stomach each morning.
“It’s not just for those of their economic status,” stressed Shauna-Leigh Carlson, who leads the program by ordering the food and organizing volunteers.
“It’s for every individual in this school, and that’s what we make sure that we do is to supply enough food for everyone to take off the plate,” she explained.
Run by the school’s parent council, the program delivers trays full of fruit and carbohydrates to each classroom five days a week.
“The trays are put together and brought to the classrooms so anybody can eat from the trays,” noted Robert Moore principal Diane Thompson.
“That way, there is no stigma attached and it is there for anybody who needs it.
“That’s exactly how it used by the children. There is very little wastage,” she added.
The program started four years ago after being spearheaded by then-prinicipal Penny Newman, and is run mainly by volunteers.
“There is a good variety of food, each day it changes,” Thompson said.
“The kids have their favourites, but they will eat all of the food that is there.”
Two education assistants come in every morning around 8:20 to start preparing the trays. The students also help run the program, with around 10 kids used every morning.
Their job is to help by finishing the trays and delivering them to every classroom in time for the first bell.
“It’s a joint effort,” stressed Carlson. “The adults help but you also have the kids . . . and without them, the program wouldn’t run, either.
“It’s both adult and children who help run this program as successful as it is,” she remarked.
For the students who come down and give up their time, they can enter into a raffle every month to win various prizes.
“It’s to give the kids a little incentive for the kids to know their time is recognized,” said Carlson.
“There are some kids who come down every single day, Monday to Friday, and those ones will definitely be recognized.”
Everyone has seen how much the breakfast program has helped in the lives of the students.
“It’s been very successful,” said Thompson. “The trays are filled up and the kids that need it, take it.
“That means some kids whose parents think, ‘I know I fed them but they still feed off the tray,’” she conceded.
“For whatever reason at that point in time, whether it’s a growth spurt, they have food to eat.
“The kids aren’t going to learn if they are hungry,” Thompson reasoned. “If they worry about eating or if they are hungry for whatever reason, they are just not going to be available for something like learning.
“If their basic needs like food are covered, then they are open for learning. So it helps to improve learning and improve achievement, and so students are getting the best that they possibly can.”
“Teachers have commented the kids are more content, they are more adept at learning, and they are more focused,” echoed Carlson.
“That is proven statistically, and the teachers see it on a daily basis.
“To say that this program makes a difference in the lives of the children who attend would be an understatement,” Carlson added.
“Students are ready and able to turn their attention on learning rather than being hungry,” she reiterated.
“Students know it’s for all—risk-free and no judgements.”
Funding is a major part to keep the program running. Thompson said it costs around $400 a week to run, or between $10,000 and $11,000 for the school year.
And she is expecting that figure to jump to between $12,000 and $13,000 with the expected increase in enrolment from the closure of F.H. Huffman School.
“It’s very economical for the amount of students we feed throughout the day,” she remarked.
“The funding is our biggest thing because it’s month to month,” noted Carlson. “It’s not like every September we have an allotted amount in our bank account to run.
“It’s based on donation of organizations and parents,” she explained.
Thompson said two of the major sponsors are the Northwestern Health Unit and the United Native Friendship Centre, the Gizhewaadiziwin Access Centre, as well as the Fort Frances Lions Club and Kiwanis Club.
The TD Bank also bakes muffins for the group every second Tuesday.
“We are always, always looking for extra support because, as you can imagine, putting food together for 400 kids and next year will be about 450,” Thompson stressed.
Robert Moore is not the only school which offers a breakfast program to its students. The UNFC supplies a similar situation to Huffman, going there Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
Rachel Spuzak, with the UNFC, estimates they feed around 80 kids a day.
“We have a high number of aboriginal students there, so then we decided we would start doing the breakfast program for all kids,” she said.
J.W. Walker here offers a breakfast program, as well, running it every morning with an average of 15 kids taking advantage of it, said principal Bill Daley.
The people who run the school lunch program also oversee the breakfast version.