As school gets underway on P.E.I., many Island students won't need to worry about what they're having for lunch as the province says its new healthy school food program has gotten more interest than it ever expected.
More than 10,000 students are signed on, which is nearly double the number the province said it was expecting.
Ian Newman, owner of the Route 2 Diner, is responsible for serving food to some schools in Queens County and said it's welcome news for his business.
"It's phenomenal, making sure all the kids get healthy food," he said. "I think as we move on that number should increase and I'm looking forward to it."
The program is a pay-what-you-can model for families to order healthy lunches five times a week for students. Meals are prepared and delivered directly to the schools at lunch time. They're all made by local food service providers.
Newman said he's expecting to produce 50-60 meals a day for students, and these range from spaghetti to Greek salad and much more. As a rural business, he said, more uptake into the program — especially heading into the winter months — will help keep the doors open.
It's also rewarding to see the look on the students' faces when they see lunch delivered.
"We get to the schools and you see the kids come out and say 'Oh, what do we got today?' And they get all excited, especially if it's one of their favourites," he said.
"It just means a lot that we know kids are going to get good, hot food."
'It's really a win-win all the way around'
Minister of Education Brad Trivers said it was an "incredible outpouring of interest," and that even though it's double what government was expecting, he's confident in the program's ability to match supply to demand.
"There will be some wrinkles, you know, and we'll sort those out as time goes on," he said.
"But I like to think that we're going to see a long-term impact of this on the health of our society as a whole."
One thing he's looking at in particular is how many families choose the free option, how many pay or how much people pay on average.
"We do know that food insecurity is a problem on the Island and I'm interested to see how it breaks down per region as well," he said. "I think it'll be a convenience factor."
There are 14 vendors taking part across the Island, Trivers said. Many of the vendors are directly in the community in which they serve and are typically spots families are familiar with.
When it comes to how much the province is spending on the program, he said the benefit outweighs the cost significantly. Money spent in the program, he said, is injected back into the community anyway.
"It's really a win-win all the way around."
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