Inflation taking a bite out of school nutrition program

·2 min read
Food inflation is hitting the VON school nutrition program. (CBC News - image credit)
Food inflation is hitting the VON school nutrition program. (CBC News - image credit)

A school nutrition program run by the Victorian Order of Nurses is feeling the pinch of higher food costs.

The Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP) feeds 28,000 students at 93 participating schools throughout Windsor Essex.

But this year food costs have risen while funding has not.

"We've got to ensure that the funds are there to make up the funding shortfall so that we can purchase those good quality items at enough of a quantity to service the whole school," said Danielle Findlay, supervisor of community relations for the OSNP.

Findlay said the provincial government and its donor partners fund 30 per cent of the per pupil cost of about $2.50, leaving the OSNP to find donors to cover the remainder.

It's been hard for the program since the start of the pandemic. As schools closed to outsiders, volunteers were not able to work on the program and outside help had to be hired to wrap and package the food, which also added to the cost.

Temporary COVID funding to cover those costs are no longer there, and volunteers are hard to find because they haven't come back.

The pandemic also hampered the fundraising efforts of the agencies and service clubs that helped make up the shortfall. The OSNP is having a hard time continuing covering the cost, let alone finding a way get more money to cover food inflation.

"We used to help them with our kids snacks and we used to deliver to schools," said Ali Bazzi, food rescue manager for the UHC Hub of Opportunity Plentiful Harvest program.

"That kind of died off just because donations slowed down over the few months and over the year through the pandemic," he said, adding they're going to try to help with snacks this year.

Findlay is also hoping to convince other service clubs and agencies to resume some fundraising to continue to provide food.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

"Outcomes associated with student nutrition programs are more than just filling hungry bellies. It's increased concentration. It's improved behaviour. It's helping to ensure that they make healthy choices both at school and at home. It's fostering connections to the environment and the earth," said Findlay.

She is also hoping the Canadian government will announce a federal school lunch program in April's budget.