Feeding Body & Mind

Breakfast Club volunteers help provide nutritious foods to kids.

Feeding Body & Mind

Photo: Gerri Photography


“(If) a child’s stomach is empty, everything else is secondary. Before developing a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for learning, one must satisfy the body’s thirst and hunger. This is the challenge faced by our society.”        Romeo LeBlanc

As you top up the gas tank in your car or grab a morning coffee, thousands of students in the area are filling up with their own fuel.

In this case, the fuel is nutritious foods provided to students through dozens of student nutrition programs, often called Breakfast Clubs, that operate at schools in Northumberland County. These nutrition programs, which receive base funding through Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services, ensure students who come to school hungry get the food they need to succeed in class. Breakfast Clubs have also evolved into a popular social activity for kids.

Nutrition programs vary by school: some offer a full sit-down breakfast before class with hot foods like scrambled eggs, French toast, and pancakes or cold foods like cereal, breads and muffins. Others provide snack bins filled with cut up veggies or fruit, cheese cubes, cereal bars, yogurt, milk, and other nutritious foods.  The constants are that programs are free, and student participation is voluntary.

Volunteers prepare meals

Because government funding only covers some of the costs, volunteers and school communities have to fill the gap by fundraising and supporting these programs. During the past school year, more than 180 adult volunteers and 96 student volunteers provided 44,800 hours to support student nutrition programs in Northumberland County.
These dedicated individuals prepare and serve the food to students each day, knowing how important good nutrition is to a child’s health and ability to learn.

Mike, a volunteer at a local student nutrition program, recalls how one child in particular benefited from her school’s nutrition program.

“(The girl) was very small for her age, and spoke in almost a whisper when asking if she could have instant oatmeal. She finished that and two more, plus a whole bagel. What an appetite!” says Mike. “The need for the food from the breakfast program and its physical benefits to her are obvious, and I have watched that shy little loner blossom.”

This girl is one of approximately 2,500 students who enjoy healthy food through the nutrition programs provided at 35 schools in Northumberland County.

Students come to school hungry for many different reasons, poverty being just one. In some cases, children do not feel like eating at home when they get up, or have long bus rides to school so they are hungry at the start of class. Hectic morning schedules for some families may also leave little time to eat a proper breakfast at home.

Concentration affected

When children are hungry, they can have difficulty concentrating in school, becoming easily distracted, lethargic, and disruptive in class. Research shows well-nourished students can better focus on their studies, are better behaved, and retain more of what they learn in school.

“I know when I go in to help with the breakfast club, I am ensuring some kids will have a better day,” notes Bree, who helps out at the nutrition program offered at her child’s school.

Students certainly appreciate the efforts of volunteers. Says one local Grade 2 student, “Thank you for making Breakfast Club. You rock for that.”

If you want to help make a world of difference in your community, consider becoming a volunteer at a student nutrition program. Currently there is a shortage of volunteers, which puts these programs at risk. One or two hours per week is all that it takes, and volunteering can be tailored to your schedule. You can also get involved with Northumberland Food For Thought, the not-for-profit organization that coordinates, fundraises, and supports nutrition programs in the area.

Nourishing young minds pays off in student success, so be sure to take up the challenge and help a child in your community!

Author: Darlene Theriault

Darlene Theriault is Volunteer Recruitment Co-ordinator with Northumberland Food For Thought. Her position is funded through a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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