At least 1,100 children would go hungry a big part of the day if it wasn’t for free – or nearly free – hot and cold lunches served at many Greater Victoria elementary and middle schools.
The majority are from low-come families where some students also go without breakfast, according the school districts with lunch programs and charities like the Vancouver Island Kids Klub Centre Society that admits it doesn’t have enough money to continue its free lunch program until the end of the school year unless somebody comes to the rescue.
Sandra Matthews, the Greater Victoria school district hot and cold lunch Community Links program spokesperson, said the district serves 560 hot lunches and 360 cold lunches (sandwiches and salad) daily at five middle schools and 12 elementary schools – 162,000 meals per 186-day school year.
Community Links is a provincial Education Ministry funded program to provide money for needy students.
The majority are students are from families “in need,” although she concedes some families use the hot lunch as a convenience they help pay for rather that making lunches for their sons and daughters.
Although it costs $3.89 per lunch that is prepared by a private catering service and handed out by teachers, parents decide how much – if anything – they want to contribute toward the cost, said Matthews.
The hot meal program is available at all elementary schools, and is served on trays by staff members to students who generally eat the food in their classrooms.
There are no fees attached to cold lunches aimed only at needy kids.
Tertia Yates, executive director of the Christian charity Kids Klub, which expects to deliver between 18,000-20,000 “brown bag” lunches – at least 450 lunches weekly to 13 schools throughout Great Victoria to that children principals and teachers “designate” as needy.
She blames what she calls the ever-rising number of hungry youngsters on worsening economic times, increasing unemployment, and some welfare parents who make an “easy trip to the pub” rather than buy enough groceries to make lunch for their children.
“It’s unbelievable how many kids are hungry,” she said. Volunteers prepare the lunches and deliver the food every Monday where it is refrigerated for daily use.
Some children go without breakfast and unless free lunches were available at the schools, would suffer academically because “you can’t learn in the afternoon if you are hungry,” said Yates.
Charity board member Chris Yeu said “the the past the lunch program was heavily subsidized by Victoria Foundation grants but this year the money was not provided and we are without the financial means to sustain this program.
“Because of the huge necessity, we will continue to provide this service but we are hoping that we can secure some private sponsorships to not only cover the costs this year but also to ensure is sustainability in the future.”
Yates said a private donor has contributed $6,000 but “we need $12,000 to run it until the end of June.”
Saanich school district doesn’t have an official lunch program but, according to the superintendent’s office, if teachers see a child or children have no lunch with them, it is discretely taken care of.
No further explanation was offered, except that Saanich says it, unlike the Greater Victoria school district, doesn’t have many students going without lunch.
A couple of Catholic schools have lunch programs and while there is no formal program to help students unable to buy a lunch, students who don’t have the money to purchase the food are “helped out,” according to a Catholic schools spokesperson.
The Sooke School District which covers the West Shore to Port Renfrew feeds 230 needy students hot or cold lunches every school day – almost 43,000 lunches – at six schools through Community Links, said Frances Krusekopf, who is district principal of curriculum and programs.