At a recent meeting of School District 70 school board trustees a nondescript agenda item noted that officials are looking for ways of increasing revenue and reducing costs in the school meals program.
At an earlier meeting trustees were told that the demands on the program, which serves 100,000 meals across the district annually, was outstripping its resources.
But children at two district schools have a breakfast program run by an independent group whose resources aren’t in jeopardy, and they hope to expand.
Read And Feed is a four-year old breakfast program delivered by Neighbour Link, a non-profit society made up of a multi-denominational group of churches.
The group serves breakfast at Maquinna Elementary Monday through Thursday, and at Alberni Elementary School on Monday through Friday.
Breakfasts consist of fruit, milk, yogurt and cheese. Second helpings are welcome and common.
“Our breakfasts are healthy,” program volunteer Sally Anderson said. “We don’t shoot them up with sugar before they go to class.”
The program is open to any child who is hungry. “We don’t turn anyone away, not even their parents if they are hungry,” Anderson said.
On Wednesday at Alberni, the program fed more than 44 children.
Across town at Maquinna 31 students use the program.
“The use was heaviest the first couple of days,” Anderson said.
One minute the volunteers were quietly preparing meals and five minutes later 15 children lined up with more coming.
“This is the fastest one-and-a-half hour in the week,” volunteer Val Inwards said.
Several children who showed up at the bell because the bus was late weren’t turned away.
“We try and give them at least something so they don’t go hungry,” Anderson said.
School staff report that students are better behaved and more alert in class, Anderson said.
Alberni and Maquinna are on opposite sides of town but the need for the program crosses all boundaries. “We found children at Alberni as needy as any other school,” Anderson said.
The program is volunteer run and funded by in-kind and cash contributions from business, local government initiatives, service groups and citizens .
“Whether we get $50 or $1,000 it all goes to feed the children,” Anderson said.
Gift cards from foodstores are common and are used as needed as the year progresses.
The program just started serving on Thursday’s at Maquinna.
“My dream is to add Friday’s to there and then branch out to other schools,” Anderson said.
Church groups run the program but Anderson is clear that there is no proselytizing.
Volunteers pray privately before children get to school but that’s it. “We don’t bring our bibles in and preach,” Anderson said.
The program is a mote of light during lean times, one parent who asked not to be named said.
“You try to make ends meet and you can’t always do it,” she said. “This helps fill that gap that you can’t always fill yourself.”
At Alberni, the bell goes and students file out and go to class.
Volunteer Valerie Thompson worked in schools and went to Alberni Elementary as a child. “I like working around children and this is a way of giving back,” she said. “But it’s important that a child go to school with something in their stomach.”