SD27, the Central Cariboo Community Food Hub and Interior Health Authority coordinated the meeting
Ensuring access to nutritious food for all students in a stigma-free environment was the focus of a meeting held in Williams Lake on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
About 40 people including principals, school district staff involved in food preparation, parent advisory council members and local food producers attended the four-hour brainstorming session, held at the Gibraltar Room in Williams Lake.
The meeting was coordinated by School District 27, the Central Cariboo Community Food Hub and Interior Health Authority.
Earlier in 2023, SD27 received more than $600,000 from the province for nutritious food in schools which will be annual for the next three years, said Cheryl Lenardon, deputy superintendent of SD 27.
“We have already allocated over $400,000 out to schools for direct use for their food programming and we have the rest that we are holding back a bit until plans develop and we find out where it is needed,” she said.
Stephanie Bird of Slow Train Farm and the Central Cariboo Food Hub said her group started having discussions with Lenardon about getting involved with supporting community organizations and other agencies that service vulnerable populations in the community.
“Because the school district deals with such a wide population on a daily basis from most of the community and each family is represented with someone in the school that’s why I reached out to Cheryl,” Bird said, adding there is not enough capacity for staff to deal with all the food programming needs so the hub is eager to help.
Alexis Blueshke, a dietician with Interior Health, said she connected with Bird and after that pitched the idea of the Nov. 7 meeting.
“At public health we are looking at inter-prevention, wellness promotion and all of those good things,” Blueshke said. “For the kids it is really important for them to get healthy food because it increases their access and their nutrition if they can gets some meals in schools.”
All schools in the district have some sort of food program, and they all look a little bit different, Lenardon said.
Some are involved with Breakfast Club of Canada or Farm-to-School, and some have PAC involvement in meal programs.
There are some schools who have staffing provided by the local First Nation to do food preparation and some schools have cooks, Lenardon said.
“It is about what each school needed to make the next step toward every child that needs it getting breakfast, lunch and snacks and also increasing the healthiness of the food being served.”
Stigma-free access to food for students is also important.
Living in small towns can be a barrier for children and adults wanting to access food, Blueshke said.
“There might be one child not putting up their hand or the parent who does not want to go to the food-bank because they don’t want to be seen doing that. There are barriers, yet access to food is a human right.”
With food prices “going through the roof,” there are going to be more people needing access to food, they said.
“Everything we do is going to be important to allow people to have their dignity and access in a way that is not judgemental,” Lenardon said.
There is also a desire by the district that the food programs be sustainable in terms of waste, staffing time and resources, and that food programs increase the use of local B.C., including Cariboo, food.
Blueshke said the provincial ministry of health will be putting out guidelines next spring for supporting schools to create healthier environments for food and meals.
Bird said the hub’s goal is to educate as much as possible and provide a liaison between food producers and the school district or any other organization that wants to access affordable and local food for populations in need of that.
Blueshke said she was excited about the turnout at the meeting and the passion shared by participants.
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