A Rocky View Schools (RVS) health program that aims to partner schools and the community has been reallocating funds to support students and families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the Food For Thought program operated in 28 schools across the public school division, offering students a well-balanced breakfast to start their day.
“We recognize healthy eating is an important component of daily learning,” said Nikki Demyen, RVS’ community partner program coordinator, in a press release from the division. “In a normal year, Food For Thought provides nutritious breakfasts in a secure environment. This enables students to concentrate and learn effectively throughout the day.”
The program aims to partner RVS with local groups to promote health and help lessen the effects of food insecurity across the school district. The program is funded through a combination of grants, donations and in-kind services from national, provincial and local groups.
However, due to the periodic closure of schools as a result of COVID-19 health restrictions this past school year, funding allocated for the program had been sitting idle, according to Demyen.
“We have the funding that came from national and provincial providers, and programs could not run anywhere near capacity,” she said. “We had a lot of conditions upon us so it was limited, but everyone did the best they could.”
According to Demyen, funds left over from the modified breakfast program, which included pre-packaged foods and no additional volunteer support staff, were “repurposed and offered back to the community.”
“It would be wrong not to offer them back to the community where students and families could access them and the logical source is our food banks,” she said. “We have a very close partnership with [them], so that’s what we did.”
Funds have been reallocated and redistributed in a variety of ways over the last year including a donation of $5,000 to the regional food banks in Airdrie, Cochrane and Chestermere, a donation of $2,000 to stock the Cochrane Community Food Shed, and $1,000 toward providing mini-fridges in RVS’ Community Learning Centres.
Adding to these efforts, a new commercial refrigerator has been donated to the Airdrie Food Bank, while coupons for free eggs have been provided to local families and food banks. This year, another $5,000 was donated to food banks in Airdrie, Cochrane and Chestermere to offer support to families this summer.
Demyen said the Airdrie Food Bank provides school snack and lunch programs that were able to fill the gap left by the absence of a robust breakfast program this year.
“They have good stuff and any school can access it, so by us giving back, it was kind of full circle,” she said. “The influx [of students requiring food] was a lot over the last year, so the little bit of help that we could offer, that’s what we tried to do with the funding provided to us.”
According to Superintendent Greg Luterbach, many families in the community have been impacted by COVID-19 in various ways, including children’s learning, which can be impacted by food insecurity.
“By repurposing these funds to help partners in our school communities, we are ensuring local resources remain available to those in need,” he said in the RVS press release. “I encourage any student or family in need to take advantage of the food supports available at their local food bank.”
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