Children across Sault Ste. Marie depend on programs provided throughout the school year to access a healthy breakfast consistently. But, what happens during the summer months when these students aren’t in school?
The Mayor’s Office is partnering with Algoma Family Services, Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services and the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District to bridge that gap.
The Every Breakfast Counts initiative will see meals distributed to local children through Social Services’ neighbourhood summer programming. Social Services staff and summer students will purchase food and hand out meals, with guidance and assistance provided by Algoma Family Services.
Mayor Christian Provenzano said the idea for this initiative came from staff members at City Hall.
“Lisa Bell and Jordan Allard, city staff, and I were having some discussions as to what we could do as an office to contribute to the community and Lisa asked the question ‘What happens in the summer, when kids who are dependent on the breakfast program offered by the school; how do they get their breakfast?'” he said. “We realized we didn’t know the answer to that, so we decided ‘let’s look for it.’ ”
He said they continued by making phone calls to various resources who could help with this idea.
“We realized there wasn’t an infrastructure in place to provide those kids who need breakfast, breakfast,” he said. “So we said, ‘if we could help, could you do this?’ And we got Algoma Family Service together, and United Way and the District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board and they unanimously said ‘look, we can do this very easily, we just need the money to buy the food.’ So we said ‘we’ll get you the money to buy the food.'”
Mike Nadeau, the CAO, Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services, said they were on board with the initiative as soon as the mayor’s office reached out to him.
“They reached out to us to find out ‘is there an actual need in the community/in this area?'” he said. “Once we had a look at it, I said absolutely there’s a need. They’ve been taking the lead role in developing the plans. We’ve been working together to find out what we need for a budget, etc. So we’ve been more involved in the implementation, they’ve been involved in the development of the plan.”
Provenzano said they’re looking to raise $25,000 by the end of the month; this will be used to purchase fresh fruit, milk, yogurt, cereals and other healthy options. The goal is to begin the program by July. They started fundraising before Thursday morning’s launch; they already have a number of written communications going out to community partners and community stakeholders and private sector businesses. He said most of the solicitation for donations will be from him.
“I’ve already called some (community partners). I’ll be calling more; I’ll be setting up meetings and talking to people about the importance of the program,” he said. “I’m going to go out – I have every confidence we’re going to do this.”
He commended the community for its big heart when it comes to issues such as food insecurity.
“This is about our children, this is about a number of children needing a healthy breakfast and that resonates, I think, with everybody. And those of us who can afford to support that and contribute to it, we’re eager to, and I’m confident I’ll find a number of like-minded people in the community.”
Nadeau and Provenzano both agreed that food insecurity is a huge issue in some areas of the Sault, where many people are on assistance or in a low-income setting.
“We have 1,350 children today who are receiving OW – that’s not counting parents of low-income who are struggling, with lower income employment, that’s not including children who’s parents are receiving Ontario Disability as a support,” Nadeau explained. “So I think the issue is growing, I think it is significant. Social assistance rates have been increasing, however, the cost of food has also been increasing. So it’s very very difficult for families to manage.”
He continued by explaining the importance of a healthy breakfast, explaining that in some areas of the Sault, food insecurity impacts are higher than anywhere else in the province.
“In our community right now, in some of our priority areas, we have higher obesity rates, our childhood obesity rates, the provincial averages, we have higher averages of children going to school hungry then some of our provincial counterparts, we have higher indicators showing that children are going to school not ready to learn, and a lot of that deals with food insecurity – if a child does not start the day with a healthy, nutritious meal, they’re going to school hungry, it’s very difficult for them to focus, to plan, etc.,” he said “That’s why the school board has been instrumental in working with Algoma Family Services in providing healthy breakfasts and snacks during the school year, but there was a gap from the time school ended until school started up again. This is just a great filler of that space. It was a gap in our community across the whole city.”
Provenzano said he decided to get involved because he thinks it’s positive for the community to see the mayor engaged and trying to give back to the community. He explained that this is a matter of importance to him.
“I’ve been the mayor now for three years,and I’m in my fourth year, and in working with Mike and the United Way, I’ve really come to appreciate and understand the gravity of the food insecurity issue. And I’ve had some experiences where I’ve seen it first-hand -I do some volunteering in the city and I’ve seen it,” he said. “It’s tough to see kids who are hungry. I’ve seen that and I just feel like I’m in a position to do something about it. On a secondary level, I very strongly believe that city staff are change agents, that when they come to work everyday, they come to work and they get to improve the community that the people they love and the people they care about live in. And I say that a lot around here. I think this program is a good example of city staff making a change in the community. I’ve talked a lot about that; for us to see substantial change, we have to work together. So when I see that type of initiative around City Hall, I encourage and support it. So, it’s important to me personally; it’s also important to me to see city staff really engaging and problem solving within the community.”
Nadeau said he’s hoping to see this initiative not only help the children, but also their parents.
“I’m hoping that we’ll see, the schools will start to see, that children are actually coming back to school more ready to learn. I’m hoping that, if we start this, that maybe over the summer months, rather than eating unhealthy food or snacks, if kids start to have more nutritional meals, that maybe it’ll impact our diabetes rates,” he said. “I’m also hoping that some of our parents – because if they’re trying to feed children, trying to put food on the table, it causes significant stress in their day – so I’m hoping that it makes a difference in their lives and maybe allows them to do some planning, take an education or a training course, you know, versus just simply having to worry about ‘how do I make sure my children have their next meal?'”