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RELEASE: Local leaders gather for community breakfast event to advance school meal programs.

Windsor, ON – United Way along with VON’s Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) are pleased to invite residents and leaders, including MP Irek Kusmierczyk to a community breakfast to discuss opportunities and challenges related to enhancing school meal programs for Windsor-Essex students.

School Meal programs offer a myriad of positive benefits for all students, supporting academic achievement as well as physical and mental health. But when it comes to national school meal programs, Canada is an outlier. Canada is currently the only industrialized country that doesn’t have a national school meal program. In 2017, a UNICEF report ranked Canada 37th out of the 41 wealthiest nations for children’s access to nutritious food: below the United States and just above Bulgaria.

Local families are struggling. Inflation and affordability pressures mean that more and more children are finding it difficult to access nutritious food, with food insecurity affecting 1 in 4 children across Canada (1.8 million).  Still, school food advocates are clear that school meal programs are not intended to simply relieve food insecurity. Instead, they offer a smart policy opportunity to proactively invest in the health and wellbeing of the next generation.

The Rockefeller Foundation reports that US school meal programs return double their cost in human health and economic benefits. The quality of student diets across all socio-economic backgrounds is poor and the preventable cost of nutrition-related disease in Canada is estimated at $15.8 billion annually.

United Way is asking local leaders to come together to ramp up local support for school meal programs. “All children should have access to healthy food, and we are committed to raising awareness about this issue and supporting local efforts to enhance the delivery of local school meal programs in areas where the data shows they are needed most” said Lorraine Goddard, CEO of United Way Centraide Windsor-Essex.

The Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) feeds 28,000 students at 94 participating schools throughout Windsor Essex.  Their extensive reach ensures that most children across the community have access to some form of nutritious food at school. However, the provincial funding is intended to be partial seed funding, and schools are required to cover the additional cost through a patchwork of support and volunteer help.  “Inflation is having a tremendous impact on school food programs. We are appealing to the community for added support at a time when programs are struggling to pay higher food costs,” said Danielle Findlay, supervisor of community relations for the VON, Ontario Student Nutrition Program. “Today’s breakfast event is intended to shine a light on the need and the opportunity in our community”, she says.

Member of Parliament for Windsor-Tecumseh, Irek Kusmierczyk has been a long-time supporter of this issue and remains committed to ensuring the federal government will deliver on their promise to invest in a national school food program. Last year he invited Canada’s then Minister of Children & Families Karina Gould to meet with local leaders to discuss the issue, stating that Windsor-Essex is ready to lead the way on a National School Food Program to ensure all children in our community have access to the healthy food they need to grow & learn”.

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