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Saskatoon joining call for national school lunch program

With school now officially started for most students across the province, organizations that provide food for kids in school are bracing for an increased need.

As more families struggle economically, the absence of a federal school meal program is evident.

The takeout window at the Saskatoon Friendship Inn has become popular with those who want to get a nutritious meal to take on their travels for the rest of the day.

“It’s been a busy September here at the Friendship Inn with lots of kids, lots of families and activities.” Laura Herman, Friendship Inn development and engagement manager told CTV News.

The curbside window supplements their regular dining room food service.

A volunteer works the pickup window at the Saskatoon Friendship Inn. (Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

They hand out breakfast items in the morning and lunch items later in the day. They try to have a hot item like soup and a sandwich, but on some occasions restaurants have donated pizza as an added bonus for patrons.

“Anybody can walk up, and we will have a meal for them. Kids for sure take advantage of that,” Herman says.

With the current economic pressure put on families, students run the risk of showing up to class without proper nutrition and an inability to focus and learn. Food programs are feeling the pinch to provide nutritious meals more than ever before.

“We’re seeing a bigger need. In the last year, we had a 100-school increase on the wait list. With inflation and rising cost of goods, that’s severely impacted breakfast programs,” said Julianne Nyasulu, Breakfast Club of Canada programs advisor.

The Breakfast Club of Canada started in 1994, supporting breakfast programs across Canada. They work in over 3,000 programs in schools nationally. In Saskatchewan, there are 50 programs operated by the organization serving 8,000 children. Schools apply for the program on their website.

“There are 500 schools on the waitlist in Canada right now. Many of the provinces have equal to if not more schools on the waitlist than the active programs that exist so that emphasizes the need across the country right now,” she says.

Rachel Engler-Stringer is a University of Saskatchewan researcher who has done extensive research with colleagues across the country in the areas of food programs for kids.

Her research indicates that our country is falling short.

“Canada is one of the very few affluent countries that do not have a national school food policy or program. So, most countries that are similar to Canada in terms of economics and structure of government would have a some sort of national program,” Engler-Stringer says.

She can’t say exactly why this is the case, but hopes government changes its policy and creates a federal program.

Over the past two years, Engler-Stringer’s team has collected data that compares schools where students have provided lunch with those that don’t and one common finding which is in line with national studies, shows the nutritional quality of food intake during school hours is poor for students.

This also includes students in affluent areas, according to the research.

The data also showed the link between having a provided lunch for all students and positive social interactions. When the students all had the same food, there tended to be more of a community atmosphere. It also showed that kids were more willing to try new and different foods when all students ate the same meal.

The Catholic and public school boards in Saskatoon told CTV News it’s too early to say what their final need will be for food programs this year, as final enrollment data will be submitted by the end of September.

With more kids and families looking for a hand with meals, places like The Friendship Inn will keep up their work along with schools and other organizations to fill the bellies of students in our community.

Both The Friendship Inn and Breakfast Club of Canada rely on donations to make their programs run. Information on contributing can be found on their websites. Top Stories

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