School lunch program filling stomachs, helping young minds

Beverly Johnston, left, and Makena Tarichia, right, prepare a meal for any hungry Charlottetown residents on Sept. 25 at the Upper Room Soup Kitchen. Gwydion Morris photo.
Beverly Johnston, left, and Makena Tarichia, right, prepare a meal for any hungry Charlottetown residents on Sept. 25 at the Upper Room Soup Kitchen. Gwydion Morris photo.
By GWYDION MORRIS
Sept. 26, 2014

An 80-year-old man once walked into Nicole Haire’s office and handed her a $100 bill for Three Oaks Senior High’s lunch program. The man was overcome with emotions because he was once a hungry student, and his teachers gave him a jam sandwich on the days he hadn’t eaten.
The problem is still there. Students can’t learn when they’re hungry, so Three Oaks has expanded its breakfast program to eliminate hunger in the halls.
At lunch, hungry students were getting any food left over from the breakfast program, but Haire knew that wasn’t enough. So she sat down with other teachers.
“We decided a student can only take so many bagels and granola bars.”
Now, the lunch program, called In Our Own Backyard, runs five days a week, and participating students receive bagged lunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and a hot meal from the cafeteria on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
It takes about $12,000 a year to feed the 20 students who rely on the program. The money comes from fundraising and grants from the province.
“It takes a community to raise a child,” Haire said. “And people have been so generous.”
When a student comes to school hungry, it changes their attitude, Haire said. There has been a big improvement in the participating students’ behavior and marks. The program changed one student profoundly.
“There was a huge change in his outlook in life,” Haire said.
Meanwhile, Debbie Richard has been running a lunch program from the Summerside Presbyterian Church every Thursday since last September. The program feeds about 90 children and is open to anyone. Some show up to see their friends, some show up because that may be their only meal.
“Kids come over to socialize, eat and have fun.”
Many Summerside residents overlook the number of hungry students walking the halls of their schools. It’s hard to know what can be done about the issue, said Richard.
But lunch programs like those at the church, the Boys and Girls club and Three Oaks is a step in the right direction.
It’s hard for some families in the P.E.I. economy to make ends meet. They’re limited in what they can spend their income on, she said.
“Some people just don’t have the extra money to spend on food.”

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