Halfway through its second year, the P.E.I. School Food Program is seeing big growth.
The non-profit group is serving 14 per cent more meals than it did at this time last year, and in its last ordering cycle received orders for 37,906 meals. That covers two weeks, and is a new record.
"We're always excited to see growth and to see our meal numbers increasing. This means that more Island students are consuming a nutritious lunch, which is really what our organization is all about," said executive director Katelyn MacLean.
That growth has come at a cost. The meals are priced at $5.50, but the program operates on a pay-what-you-can basis. Orders and payments are done online, and the meals are delivered without any indication of what was paid for them, in that way avoiding any stigma for students whose families may not be able to afford the full value.
"We are seeing our overall pay-what-you-can revenue trending downwards with more families paying zero and less families paying the entire meal value," said MacLean.
"So, overall that's decreasing the amount of revenue."
There could be a lot of reasons for this, said MacLean, but she suspects with inflation pressure more parents are taking advantage of this opportunity to save on food bills.
"You can't pay what you can on your electricity or your rent, so this is an area of flexibility," she said.
"We're trusting Islanders to carefully choose the amount that they can pay each time they are ordering."
The program has seen increased funding from the provincial government to make up for lost revenue, but it is still not immune to inflation. After Christmas it made some changes to the menu, including removing the wrap sandwich due to the increased cost of lettuce.
But the program remains committed to ensuring it is providing healthy food, she said.
The school food program launched as a pilot project of the Department of Education in the fall of 2020, and the P.E.I. School Food Program took over the project as a non-profit group in the fall of 2021.
The group is in the process of receiving charity status, which will allow it to seek donations from individuals and sponsorships from companies.