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Food program now in place at all Nanaimo-Ladysmith schools

Schools foundation and donors co-operate to fill warehouse shelves for fall semester
Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation program assistant Morgan Theedom, left, Fairway Market communications coordinator Jennifer Loo, Casino Nanaimo guest services manager Tracey Benoit and NLSF executive director Crystal Dennison co-operate to keep the Food 4 Schools program’s warehouse shelves well-stocked. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)


Every school in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will be receiving breakfast and lunch fixings and snacks for hungry students this school year.

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation’s Food 4 Schools program continues to expand, and was busily stocking its shelves on the eve of the fall semester.

Fairway Market staff stopped by the Food 4 Schools warehouse at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools Learning Alternatives – the former Woodlands school site – this past Friday, Sept. 1, to drop off a donated truckload of groceries, and also to celebrate Casino Nanaimo’s donation of $5,000 in grocery store gift cards.

The groceries and gift cards are much appreciated by the Food 4 Schools program, which has grown rapidly from its pre-pandemic days when it supplied 8-12 schools. Now, in an era of rising food costs and with recognition that food security concerns exist in all Nanaimo-Ladysmith neighbourhoods, the program has scaled up.

“The motivation, personally and for the organization, was to provide a program that’s equitable,” said Crystal Dennison, the foundation’s executive director. “It shouldn’t matter where a student is attending school – if they need support, it should be available for them.”

Inflation at supermarkets and the pumps and rising housing costs are challenging for families, Dennison said. The schools foundation, as well as educators, know that it’s more difficult for students to be able to learn if they’re skipping breakfast, lunch, or both, and so Food 4 Schools fills gaps as best it can. The foundation takes advantage of donations of food and money, and watches for caselot sales to keep the warehouse shelves stocked. Schools make weekly grocery orders and receive deliveries, and the offerings for students will vary school by school, depending on the staff resources and food-preparation facilities available.

“The idea is to provide sort of a basic meal. It’s not intended to be five-star dining,” Dennison said. “We just want to make sure that if students are arriving and they don’t have the proper lunch or enough in their lunch, that we’re able to either supplement or provide that for them, equal to what a … student who comes to school with a lunch, or has had breakfast at home would have.”

Moving forward, the foundation is interested to see how provincial ‘Feeding Futures’ funding can improve meal programs in the district. The province budgeted $214 million over three years for school districts to create or expand food programs, and money can go to purchasing food and hiring dedicated staff.

Dennison anticipates prepared lunches being dropped off at schools, with more frequent deliveries than what’s happening now.

“We’ll be looking to provide in-house pre-made food items to support the schools that don’t necessarily have the resources, staffing-wise, to make sandwiches, or to make breakfast wraps and those types of things…” she said. “We’re really excited to be able to sort of next-level support the schools in making sure that students are being fed because it takes time to do the food preparation at the school level and some schools have more resources than others depending on the needs, and their facility resources and staffing resources.”

Long-term, she would like to see expansion of breakfast programs, which she said can build school communities.

“There’s so many added values to having a breakfast program in a school than just the nutritional part,” she said. “That’s the No. 1 goal, is to make sure that everyone has something to eat, but there’s so many added values to having a breakfast program in a school. Schools see increased attendance, better behaviour, and just a calmer environment all around if everybody’s had something to eat.”

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