Thousands of children in Oxford County are now getting the nutritious food they need to succeed.
The expanded Oxford County Nutrition Partnership program is a massive improvement over 10 years ago when only one local school had a nutrition program available to all students at no cost.
“The school nutrition partnership now serves over 1.3 million meals to students in 37 schools across Oxford County,” said program co-ordinator Lynda Metcalfe. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, and the kickoff breakfast is where it all begins. School staff and program volunteers can come together, discuss their programs, share ideas and get their funding cheques for the year ahead.”
It is estimated that one-third of elementary and two-thirds of secondary students do not eat breakfast and in 2010, 1,612 families in Oxford could not afford to buy healthy, nutritious food for their children on a daily basis.
“Hungry children do not learn as well,” Metcalfe said. “Hungry children often disrupt the classroom because they are hungry.”
Metcalfe explained that out of the 42 schools in Oxford County, there are 37 currently with nutrition programs, and three of those without have contacted her to work on starting a program.
“The goal is hopefully by the end of the year everyone will have a program,” she said. “The goal of the partnership is to have every child in Oxford County well fed and ready to learn.”
The universal program relies on volunteers with the support of the schools' staff and principals.
Metcalfe said it is important that hungry children have access to nutritious food throughout the day because many don’t have breakfast or lunch or an inadequate one.
In response, she said, many schools have embraced the idea of making food available outside of the regular nutrition breaks, setting up more formalized programs.
The nutritional program offered by the schools must follow nutrition guidelines set by public health dieticians, meet standards set by public health inspectors, and also establish funding for continued sustainability through fundraising or donations.
Metcalfe said the program also serves as a way to for students to find out what healthy food is.
“It will instill a life-long habit of healthy eating,” she said.
Meanwhile volunteers with the program explain that for the children, the meal -- which includes a grain, dairy, fruit or vegetable item -- has become an important part of their school day.
Andrea McKay, a volunteer at Hickson Public School, said the children’s response to the program has been phenomenal.
“They love it,” she said.
Fellow volunteer Amanda Nielson said the program ensures they are getting more than just items such as chocolate-covered granola bars for nutrition.
“It makes sure they are eating something healthy,” she said. “Not junk.”