A young boy sat at his new school desk, his stomach rumbling. He looked at the clock and watched as the seconds ticked by, his stomach rumbling again. The teacher started writing on the white board, but he couldn’t remember what she was talking about. He looked back at the clock counting the minutes until lunch even though he knew his lunch box would be empty.
The bell chimed and he stayed seated while everyone else got up.
His teacher came up and asked him what was wrong. He looked up at her and quietly whispered, "We don't have much food at home, so I don't bring lunch."
The teacher looked down at the young boy and let him know, with a smile, that it would be okay. Their school actually gets sandwiches everyday from some very special people at The Mustard Seed.
“This is my lucky day!” exclaimed the boy with a huge smile.
The Red Deer School Lunch Program is a service offered by The Mustard Seed that makes and serves nutritious lunches to school children living in poverty in Red Deer and other surrounding rural areas. The goal of this program is to ensure that no child has to learn on an empty stomach
Throughout Alberta there are approximately 300,000 children and 199,000 families living in poverty and one in eight Canadian families struggle daily to put food on the table. Unfortunately, food is one of the first variables to be reduced from a household budget. “When times are tough, many give up a good source of food to pay rent or other basic necessities,” says Harrison Blizzard, CAPRA Food Security Action Committee Member (Red Deer Advocate).
Red Deer has the highest percentage of lone parent families in Alberta and 38% of these families live in poverty. When these families are having to make difficult decisions on where their money goes, it is often children’s lunches that get cut.
That is where the School Lunch Program steps in.
“The School Lunch Program takes the worry and the financial pressure of trying to come up with healthy lunches for their kids,” says Kyla, school liaison worker form GH Dawe Public School.
Getting a healthy lunch while at school is vital for a child’s development, both physically and mentally. Research from The American Psychological Association has found links between household food insecurity and school-age children’s academic performance. Lack of food and proper nutrients can have affects on the development of young children, including increased hospital visits, behaviour problems, anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder. These developmental issues as a young child can then lead to poor school performance in their later years.
“The lunch program bridges a gap between home and school,” says Bonnie, school liaison worker at Normandeau Public School. “Any kid can walk in and if their lunch kits are empty, we will know. By the time they open it, there will be food in there. Kids do not go without food.”
This program has been running since 2016 when The Mustard Seed merged with a small charity, “Loaves and Fishes Society,” that had been operating the program for two decades. Now, The Mustard Seed is making roughly 500 meals a day and just in the month of March had made and delivered 10,013 lunches to 48 different schools in Red Deer and area.
“The kids have developed the understanding that the school will look after them and take care of them,” says Kyla.
This program goes further than filling a kid’s lunch box, it is also a way for families to connect with advocacy and health and wellness services offered by The Mustard Seed. It can be a small step towards helping vulnerable families get more of the assistance they might need but haven’t known where to access.
These meals might seem simple, a sandwich, fruit and veggies, a homemade cookie, but to a child living in poverty, this meal really could make it their lucky day.
For more information about the School Lunch Program, email SchoolLunchRD@theseed.ca