The province is putting up more money to help students at nearly 70 Manitoba public schools get healthy meals each day.
Premier Wab Kinew announced Tuesday that his government is giving $1.37 million to the Child Nutrition Council of Manitoba, which offers money for food programs in schools that apply, to eliminate a waitlist of schools hoping to access the programs.
The money will not only allow the nutrition council to offer programs to those schools this school year, but it will also help the council hire a fourth dietician to work with additional schools and give more money to schools that have programs already to account for higher food prices.
It brings the total grant funding from the province to $3.87 million — part of the Kinew’s election promise to offer meal programs to all 690 public schools in Manitoba come September.
“This program is all about lifting up kids,” Kinew said at a news conference at St. George School’s library in Winnipeg, surrounded by a group of Grade 3 and 4 students.
“We’re gonna make sure that we work together so that no kid goes to school hungry in Manitoba.”
Three hundred schools currently have meal programs with the nutrition council, council chair Wendy Bloomfield said Monday. The programs vary from school to school, with some serving grab-and-go snacks, others breakfast and lunch and some offering a combination of snacks and meals.
Bloomfield said school staff have told her the students look forward to the meals, and for some it’s the only healthy food they get during the day.
“There could be different cereals … some toast, maybe some waffles … fresh fruit, vegetables, milks, juices,” she said. “Anything that is nutritious.”
Kinew hopes the rest of the province’s public schools will be able to access meal programs by the 2024-25 school year if they wish to, and has earmarked $30 million in annual funding to make sure they have that option.
Kinew hopes the rest of the province’s public schools will be able to access meal programs by the 2024-25 school year, and has earmarked $30 million in annual funding to make sure it happens.
“I’ve seen firsthand when students have access to healthy, fresh food every day it boosts attendance, learning and success,” Nello Altomare, education and early childhood learning minister and a former school teacher and principal, said at the news conference. “This is changing lives.”
The $30 million, which Kinew promised ahead his election on Oct. 3, will divided up three ways, the province said in a news release.
While $15 million will go toward school divisions for meal programs based on the number of students enrolled and socio-economic factors, $6 million will go to schools in areas with the highest socio-economic need.
The remaining $9 million is set aside for programs available “on an application-basis,” including “family outreach initiatives” and support for after-school, summer and school break programs in schools that are eligible, the province said.
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Kinew said schools who apply for meal programs should only have to wait weeks, not months, to receive funding from the nutrition council.
Schools that already have meal programs through community initiatives can work with the council and the province to figure out what programs work best for them.
“It’s important that the governments set up and match that commitment,” Kinew said. “The government is gonna be there to make sure that no child falls through the cracks.”
Interim PC Leader Wayne Ewasko noted the PCs increased funding toward the nutrition council’s school meal programs to $2.5 million in 2022.
He also questioned if the NDP government is budgeting enough money to ensure every student who needs the program can access it.
“It’s going to be interesting how this rolls out,” he told CBC. “Universal is universal, so that means everybody.”