Garden Valley School Division (GVSD) Superintendent, Dan Ward, says the division’s board of trustees is very pleased with the provincial government’s announcement it will invest $30 million to expand school nutrition programming and create a universal program.
As a first step, the province is increasing grant funding to the Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba (CNCM) from $2.5 million to a total of $3.87 million for the 2023-24 school year
Through a variety of funding sources, including local fundraising, Ward says the majority of GVSD schools already offer some sort of food program. The board also invests $18,000 into the food programs across the division.
Although it’s exciting, Ward says there’s a lot of unknowns.
“We’re still waiting for details, and once we have details, and of course the expectations with the funding in terms of what the program looks like, it will mean our divisional team and our principals will need to get together and determine how to move forward in terms of enhancing our existing programs, or introducing nutrition programs to schools that may have a need, but haven’t started one yet.”
Ward expects the discussion early on regarding this announcement will be related to the deliverables of the initiative, and how they can support their schools, so they are not overwhelmed with anything that comes with it, as exciting and positive as it is.
“Right now we’re relying on volunteers, on teachers, EAs, and principals that have recognized a need. It’s very grassroots… and we know when we expand a program it’s also going to place some demands, if you will, on our schools. We want to ensure our schools are supported, because this is a worthwhile endeavor, but it does come with some additional work.”
Ward says they have seen a need for expanded food programming, and had conversations over the last few years, and even before that about the need in our community.
He called the announcement “quite timely.”
Just before Christmas, GVSD conducted a survey across all their schools that included all Grade 4 to 12 students.
“One of the questions in this anonymous survey was; How many children come to school feeling hungry, because there’s not enough food at home? And our numbers were around 20%. In fact, just above 20% across the board, a little bit higher at the elementary end,” said Ward.
Ward said their survey result aligns right with the recent Stats Canada study on the number of families that experienced food insecurity, which is around 20%.
“And so, Winkler, like many communities across our country and our province, we have lots of families that experience food insecurity, that rely on food banks. And so, this will definitely help in terms of addressing that need.”
For the 2024-25 school year, the Manitoba government will invest a record $30 million into three complimentary streams of school meal programs to ensure all children have barrier-free access to food including:
$15 million going directly to school divisions for local meal programs based on enrolment and socio-economic factors;
$6 million for public schools in communities with the highest socio-economic need; and
$9 million in grants for nutrition programming available on an application-basis that includes expanding support for the CNCM, family outreach initiatives and support for eligible after-school, summer, and school break programs.
“When we feed hungry kids at school, we set them on the right path towards success in both their education and their future,” said Premier Wab Kinew. “Our government is a leader in Canada in implementing universally accessible school nutrition programming. Children experiencing food insecurity should not have a disadvantage in their learning outcomes because they are hungry.”