School lunches on education minister’s radar

  • aaron acceptance highland high school donation at edmonton albertaEven as Dave Eggen loads plates with a nutritious lunch for students at Highlands school, advocates for hungry local kids hope he’ll be dishing dollars when the budget is announced in April.

    The education minister, a former teacher himself, toured the junior high last week. He wanted to learn more about the school’s innovative nutrition program, partly funded by a local non-profit called Food for Thought, which daily feeds 90 to 120 students a hot, healthy lunch. Located in a mixed-income area with a fair number of families who struggle to put food on the table, Highlands takes a multi-pronged approach to hungry students that could prove a model for educators across the city, and throughout Alberta.

    “There is a great need for food programs across the province,” noted Eggen during the Highlands tour. “It provides nutrition, obviously, but it’s also an education opportunity that we shouldn’t pass up to teach children about good quality food, and to teach them about community as well.”

    The government pledged $20 million for a lunch program to feed 22,000 students in the first year of its mandate as part of its election platform. The price of oil notwithstanding, Eggen says the government will be moving forward on its promise “very, very, very soon.” The government will announce its spending plans in the provincial budget April 14.

    Highlands principal Brad Burns has his fingers crossed. He grew up poor, and it’s his mission to ensure kids don’t go hungry on his watch at Highlands. He’s grateful for the Food for Thought support, but it’s not enough, even when supplemented with donations from Edmonton’s Food Bank, and The Organic Box.

    So every Tuesday after school, Burns works his trapline, driving all over the city to gather food donated by Esther Starkman school in Terwillegar, Bon Ton Bakery in the west end, and Wild Earth Bakery on the south side. Some of that food is used for the school’s toast program, which gives kids nourishment in the morning.

    “Tuesday nights at 7 p.m., I’m here unpacking groceries to make sure the food is there, but it’s worth it,” says Burns. “We have this (program) and we see tremendous success.”

    The $60,000-a-year program funds about 500 children daily at 15 high-needs schools. The money comes mostly from corporate sponsors (Aaron Acceptance donates to Highlands) and is funnelled through the Edmonton public school board.

    Article from Edmonton Journal by Liane Faulder

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