Lindsay Cary and Tara Albert, coordinators of the Tantramar School Food Response, have been recognized by Premier Blaine Higgs with a "Stepping up for my New Brunswick" citation for their work tackling food insecurity among families in their community.
Cary says while they're grateful for the recognition, what she would really like to see is a provincial school food program.
“Food insecurity is nothing new,” Cary said of the term used to describe not knowing if you have enough food to feed yourself or your family.
In New Brunswick, one in three food bank users are children, according to New Brunswick's latest Child Poverty Report Card, and more than one in five children in the province live in poverty.
In the Tantramar region, four schools have Breakfast Club of Canada grants, said Cary.
Breakfast Club of Canada programs spread across 50 schools in New Brunswick had an average daily attendance of 5,274 students before the pandemi, Cary said. After schools closed, the number of students in a food insecure situation is estimated to have doubled, according to national organization, she said.
The total number of food insecure students is likely higher because not all schools have such programs, and not all families access services until they have been experiencing food insecurity for a considerable time, she said.
When schools closed in March during the pandemic lockdown, Cary, who coordinates the breakfast club at Sackville's Salem Elementary School, realized there would be a gap for many families whose children rely on school programs to get enough to eat each day.
Albert volunteered to help, and the group began using Middle Sackville Baptist Church, where Albert works, as a base.
The pair applied to and received grants from the United Way of Greater Moncton and received more support from the schools, the Sackville Rotary club, as well as other groups and individuals, said Cary.
They were providing food to 100 families in the region through the spring and summer, she said.
When schools re-opened and breakfast and lunch programs resumed, they realized there were still families struggling, and are now delivering boxes of food every two weeks, she said.
Cary and Albert don’t know who nominated the pair for the "Stepping up" citation, and are appreciative, but mostly hope the recognition will shed light on the fact many New Brunswickers don't have enough to eat each day.
“I hope when Premier Higgs was looking at these nominations, he noticed how many were nominated for food security issues,” said Cary.
“The province has in the past said we don’t need a provincial school food program because volunteers fill the gap,” she said, but believes the idea of relying only on volunteers in a piecemeal system and assuming they will be there and are readily available in every community is a problem.
Tara Albert said even within their own program it was hard to hold onto volunteers. Several returned to work after the lockdown was lifted, but the needs of the community didn’t go away.
In September, Prince Edward Island launched a pilot school food program offering breakfast and lunch at school for $5 for families who had the means, or pay-what-you-can or no cost for those without the ability to pay. Albert wants to see New Brunswick establish a similar program.
Albert said a New Brunswick school food program could look similar or different to that of P.E.I. It could offer meals in schools or send food home.
The key component is consistency, she said, adding families in need right now are drawing from different resources depending on where they live in the province.
She noted that their own program could access funding more easily than many other groups, because they linked the program to the work of the church which already had a charitable number, required for some grants.
Last February during town hall meetings with New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy, participants pointed to the need for a provincial school food program.
The Times & Transcript requested comment from Cardy, but he was unavailable for an interview Wednesday.
Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal