Student breakfast programs linked to fewer school disruptions

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      For grandmother Gloria Bonner, every day is a struggle.

      Bonner has raised her two grandsons, both of whom have special needs, since they were very young. Now ages seven and 11, the boys have been diagnosed with mild autism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Bonner is tasked with raising them on a limited social assistance income. 

      Securing enough nutritious food for the family every week is one of Bonner’s key challenges. She and her grandsons access free meals at community-based charities three nights a week, and student nutrition programs are among the critical supports they rely on. For many, breakfasts and snack programs at school are a vital source of nutrition and community building with other kids in their school.

      “Both the boys are growing fast, and when you are trying to manage the groceries… we do a lot of rationing,” Bonner said. “They might want more, but we have to save it to have some for later too.”

      Her story is just one of several highlighted in the 2017 B.C. Child Poverty Report Card. According to the report, one in five B.C. children lives in poverty. And they’re not doing so in isolation.

      The effects of caregivers having to cut down on necessities such as food in order to pay for other basics like shelter, transit and health care are showing up in schools. Poor performance, mental health problems, physical illnesses like asthma, diabetes and heart disease, and disruptive behaviour such as bullying have all been linked to hunger among students, many of whom are heading to class with empty stomachs.

      The Grocery Foundation is all too aware of the need when it comes to children going to school without adequate nutrition. It also sees the data when it comes to the impact of helping provide a nutritious breakfast meal or in some cases a mid-morning snack. Beyond the obvious improvements in health and nutrition awareness, students who participate also exhibit less disruptive behaviour and are more likely to be on track to graduate.

      The Breakfast Club of Canada, which receives funds collected by the Foundation and its Toonies for Tummies campaign, notes that student nutrition is vital for many children across the country, with 20 per cent at risk of starting the school day with inadequate food and nutrition.


      Shoppers can put their toonies to good use at the till this spring.

      In Indigenous communities, the ratio is one in two children. And for immigrant youth, the risk is two-and-a-half times higher than the general population. It’s estimated that nearly one million Canadian children are getting nothing to eat before they go to school in the morning.

      Coming face to face with these troubling statistics is just part of the job description for teachers. 

      In B.C., 40 per cent of educators bring food to school for students who are hungry, spending an average of about $30 per month of their own money to do so. Ninety-five per cent of teachers surveyed over the summer reported that children who start the day without eating breakfast engage less and perform worse academically than those who have had something to eat.

      The same survey also revealed that hunger not only reduces a child's ability to learn, it also impacts social interactions. On average, instructors reported that kids who come to school on empty stomachs lose up to two hours a day due to lack of productivity.

      That’s why organizations such as The Grocery Foundation are stepping up to the table to help.

      In B.C., the Foundation partners with the Breakfast Club of Canada to host around 158 school breakfast clubs that feed 8,100 students each day. The Foundation is an important funder for BCC and also provides funds to student nutrition organizations in Ontario feeding over one million children.

      “Many Canadians are stunned to learn the data regarding the growing need, but also very inspired to learn of the impact that feeding a child has,” said Shaun McKenna, executive director of The Grocery Foundation.

      In fact, statistics published in Feeding Our Future—a study that provides some of the most robust evidence in Canada in favour of school food programs—show that 78 per cent of students who ate breakfast most days were on track to graduate, compared to 61 per cent of students who only ate breakfast on a few days or not at all.

      In the new year, The Grocery Foundation, which has raised $88 million for charity, is launching Toonies for Tummies at participating grocery stores (in B.C.: Save-On-Foods, IGA, Buy-Low Foods and Nesters Market). They’re encouraging shoppers to donate a toonie at the checkout to help feed a child in your community a nutritious meal.

      After donating, shoppers can go online to and enter their postal code to find out which schools in their neighbourhood will be helped. The campaign has raised more than $15 million since 2000, and all donations stay in the vicinity of the store where the funds are collected.

      “Last year Toonies came to Western Canada for the first time, it was a resounding success and we have since deployed 100% of the funds collected to local programs,” adds McKenna. “We know that residents in each community, and most especially, many children, stand to benefit.”