I was invited to attend a Nutrition Program Bus Tour on October 21, 2015 and by bus tour, they literally meant getting on a school bus with a large group of 25+ year olds, and together we traveled to three elementary schools to see the nutrition programs in action. We all wondered how we had ever fit on a school bus before! It was cramped! We agreed that they must have gotten more narrow over time – and that of course, it was not us having grown horizontally! (Denial much?)
For 5 days as part of Feed Tomorrow week, student volunteers, educators, supporters, politicians and public figures came together to raise awareness on Toronto’s hungry children. Feed tomorrow week was hosted by the Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) and proclaimed by the City of Toronto.
- One out of three children here in Toronto lives in poverty and more than 170,000 children and youth rely on breakfast, snack or lunch to make it through the day in more than 750 school and community nutrition programs across Toronto.
- In Toronto, 28.6% of children live in poverty and in some neighbourhoods this rises to over 40%.
- A recent survey conducted by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) revealed that 41% of our children come to school without having eaten breakfast.
- The Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TFSS) supports over 750 breakfast, lunch and snack programs that provide over 170,000 nutritious meals to children each school day.
- For many children, returning home to an empty house or apartment when the school day ends is a daily reality. It is between the hours of 3:30-6:30 p.m. when children are most at risk of becoming involved in unconstructive behaviour. This was confirmed by the Toronto Community Foundation’s Toronto Vital Signs report.
- The beyond 3:30 program provides after school activities as well as snacks to children in 16 middle schools in the neediest communities across Toronto.
- Research has shown that academic outcomes among low-income school children who received school breakfast via a school breakfast programs vs those who did not, significantly decreased tardiness and absences and improved performance on standardized tests of academic achievement.
- Empirical studies of school breakfast initiatives has increased substantially,with several literature reviews documenting the importance of breakfast for a variety of health and academic outcomes.
- Researchers at Tufts University provides evidence about the importance of school breakfasts. Their study used a large sample of elementary schools to examine outcomes of a Breakfast in the Classroom intervention as a strategy to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program and several key academic outcomes.
- With the continuing funding support from the Ministry of Education, Phase III research focused on an in-depth examination of why and how beyond 3:30 has made significant impacts on adolescents as well as their families in high-needs communities. Many of the observable impacts identified in Phase I and II Evaluations were confirmed in this Phase III explanatory research with the use of both qualitative and quantitative data. Even more importantly, this study has explored a number of unanticipated but important spin-off benefits, which were found to have borne great implications for the participants’ well-being and future success.
*Nutrition Programs Q&A
What is a Student Nutrition Program?
It is a program that offers a healthy breakfast, morning meal, snack and/or lunch to students before, during or after each school day.
How many Student Nutrition Programs are there in Toronto?
There are approximately 720+ programs operating across the city every day.
Who participates in Student Nutrition Programs?
Students from 4 to 18; parents; school staff members; community volunteers.
Who implements, and co-ordinates, Student Nutrition Programs?
Parents and community members who want to promote healthy eating practices for children in their community organize most programs. They form a Local Student Nutrition Program Committee (with representatives from parents, community members, local school staff, agencies, faith community members, Toronto Public Health, school boards) to apply for start-up funding and work out the daily needs of the program.
Where are Student Nutrition Programs held?
Student Nutrition Programs are primarily held in schools but can also be found in community centres, faith centres, apartment buildings or wherever there are kitchen/preparation/storage facilities and willing community members.
When do Student Nutrition Programs happen?
Student Nutrition Programs can happen at almost any time during the day. Each program decides what is best for the students, the volunteers and host staff. The most popular are breakfast, morning meal served in class before 11:00am, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and after school snack.
How are the Student Nutrition Programs in Toronto funded?
Parents are the main supporters of the Student Nutrition Programs. Many give both time and funds. The City of Toronto and The Province of Ontario also give financial support to each program on a yearly basis. Other funds come from local community groups, service clubs, faith communities, other private funders, The Toronto Foundation for Student Success and The Angel Foundation for Learning.
Do Student Nutrition Programs provide other benefits to the community?
Yes, these programs provide meaningful volunteer and work experience to parents and other community members. Many of the programs’ volunteers include new Canadians engaging with their child’s school and public society for the first time in a way that is meaningful for them and helps build their own capacity and social connections, often teaching new skills which may lead to employment opportunities.
*Information obtained from Food Share
Bus Tour Details
WHEN: Wednesday, October 21st 7:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
8:30 a.m. bus tour begins
9:00 a.m. at Ryerson Community School
10:20 a.m. at First Nations School of Toronto (including a smudging ceremony)
10:45 a.m. at Dundas Junior Public School
11:30 a.m. reception
Some of my best memories growing up were of the early mornings when my mom would drop my brother and I off at the breakfast program at our elementary school in downtown Toronto. Rather than see these early starts as punishment, I saw them as an opportunity to play with my friends, eat a delicious breakfast, and watch cartoons (we did not have cable at home). Years later while in University, I became an after-school program instructor and tried to give children the opportunities that I was provided. I had hoped to help them make positive memories that they could take with them as they maneuvered themselves through life – just as I had.
This bus tour allowed me the opportunity to see how the programs have evolved, met many of the players responsible for keeping the programs alive, and engaged with students who benefit from these programs. I am grateful to the hard work of the teachers, volunteers, funders, children, and every other person and organization that is involved in feeding the young children of Toronto, and for making sure that the child remains the focus and at the centre of this initiative.