There’s one simple equation that can make a big difference in thousands of children’s lives across the province: students + healthy meals = success in school.
The math is compelling: research shows that giving children access to nutritious meals and snacks at school helps remedy complex classroom challenges such as poor academic performance, disruptive behaviour, and even mental and physical health concerns like anxiety and asthma.
With 20 percent of kids across the country at risk of coming to school with empty stomachs due to a lack of access to nutritious food, hunger is a major player when it comes to academic outcomes, affecting everything from sociability to graduation rates.
Despite being at the helm of an organization created to support nutrition programs in B.C., Susan Cairns, executive director of the Langley School District Foundation, was taken aback by the number of students going without in her district.
“We started hearing about kids that were coming to school hungry,” says Cairns. “So, I did a survey and we found out that there were 3,000 kids coming to school hungry every day, and that was astonishing.”
Through observing students’ diets, child-health advocates have learned that being hungry reduces a child’s ability to learn and negatively impacts their social interactions. However, studies confirm simply improving nutrition can influence the core cognitive skills the brain uses to think, read, and learn.
A recent Feeding Our Future study of Grade 7 and 8 students who ate morning meals most days in a school week found they achieved better results in independent work (70 percent versus 56 percent); initiative (65 percent versus 51 percent); problem solving (66 percent versus 53 percent); and class participation (72 percent versus 60 percent) compared to students who didn’t eat in the morning.
The study also showed 78 percent of students who ate breakfast most days were on track to graduate, compared to 61 percent of students who only ate breakfast a few days a week or not at all.
“It doesn’t matter how smart the child is, or how good the teacher is: if the child is hungry, there’s no way they’re going to learn,” Cairns says. “They can’t concentrate on anything but how hungry they are.”
Fortunately, solving the problem can cost as little as $2—collectively, of course.
Thanks to public donations to the Grocery Foundation’s Toonies for Tummies campaign made in participating grocery stores and online, the nonprofit charitable organization has raised more than $15 million since 2000 to feed hungry school-age youth. Its goal is to raise $1 million this year alone, and it's already raised over $850,000.
In Western Canada, through its partnership with the Breakfast Club of Canada, the Grocery Foundation funds 380 school breakfast clubs that feed more than 56,000 students each day. This is part of the close to 10 million healthy, nutritious breakfasts are served every year, with more than one million being doled out in B.C. alone.
Maureen Burgess, breakfast coordinator at Langley’s Nicomekl Elementary School, is well aware of how individual contributions can add up.
“The Toonies for Tummies program is very important because food costs are high. And if we want to serve the children a nice nutritional breakfast, we have to go and pay that money,” Burgess says. “So if you see people asking to help with the Toonies for Tummies program, I would really encourage people to do that because it’s such a good thing to be able to help the kids.”
Nearly 500 school breakfast clubs across Canada (132 in B.C.) are on a wait list, according to the Breakfast Club of Canada, which receives 100 percent of the campaign donations.
Save-On-Foods recently kicked off the Western leg of the campaign, raising nearly $220,000—twice last year’s donations. IGA Stores of BC, Nesters Market and Buy-Low Foods are gearing up for campaigns that will run from late February into March. You can pitch in by donating a toonie at the checkout, or learn more about where and when to donate at www.tooniesfortummies.ca.
One hundred percent of donations to the campaign go directly to kids and youth in the communities where the funds are collected. You can even track your donation online using the Toonie Tracker.
“To be able to … start the day off with a really good breakfast in a social atmosphere, it just changes their whole lives,” Cairns says.More