Liberals set table for school-food program, warned to avoid top-down approach

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are being told to avoid creating a one-size-fits-all national school-food program to replace the patchwork of efforts to feed hungry children that exist now.

The Liberals promised in their 2019 budget to work towards creating a such a program and have reached out to provinces, territories and key stakeholders over the past months.

Groups the Liberals are leaning on for advice say questions include how soon the program kicks off, how big it is at the start, which children will qualify and what meals they’ll receive.

Joanne Bays, co-founder of Farm to Cafeteria Canada, says federal officials have been told to provide provinces, territories and even schools themselves with the latitude needed to deliver programs that meet local needs.

There are thousands of food programs for the roughly five million children enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, programs often run by community groups with financial help from governments and charities.

Debbie Field, co-ordinator of the Coalition for Health School Food, says she isn’t concerned about the politics of a minority Parliament getting in the way of funding and creating a national program because of cross-party support for the idea at the federal and provincial levels.