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Celebration signals the start of a potentially national nutritional lunch program

A Chatham-Kent based group is set to hit the ground running with a pilot project that will provide healthy lunches for elementary school students regardless of their family’s income.

The group called “We Are One” in conjunction with Cathren’s “Bon Appetit” Inc. is set to hold a launch party on Saturday, May 25 at Club Lentinas in Chatham in support of the initiative.

Sally Joyce, an educator and community builder with the group, said the plan is to start with a one-day-a-week program in June at three Chatham-Kent area schools and then expand it to five days a week at three schools in the fall.

“Every child will be receiving a lunch and it’s generally done similar to a cafeteria line,” said Joyce. “The food will be coming warm, buffet style, and servers will be filling up trays and [the students] are able to receive it that way.”

Joyce said the group has selected three specific schools for the pilot program, but they haven’t solidified their plans yet, so the identities of the schools won’t be revealed until the group has final confirmation in place. The pilot project will be spread across a wide range of schools with at least one school in the Catholic board, and one in the public board. The test schools will also cover both rural and urban centres.

The ultimate goal of the pilot project is to solidify a national nutritional program that is supported by the federal government, something the Liberals committed to in the 2019 Budget.

“It’s a long-term vision… and it is operating in a number of other countries successfully,” said Joyce, noting that a report from UNICEF said Canada is the only G7 nation that does not have a national school food program. “Not only will the children benefit health-wise and nutrition-wise and education-wise, the restauranteurs, of course, will have to hire more and will have some more support behind them, the local growers will also know they’re growing for a local reason… there are a lot of benefits.”

The budget document the Liberals presented in March was short on specifics, signalling the “Government’s intention to work with the provinces and territories towards the creation of a National School Food Program” without providing any concrete numbers or timelines attached to that commitment. Joyce said she is hoping to hear more details of the federal government’s support at Saturday’s launch party, but that has not been confirmed yet.

NDP MP Don Davies (Vancouver-Kingsway) appears to be pushing the government to make good on its promise. He tabled Bill C-446 earlier this month — an act to develop a national school food program for children that would require the federal Minister of Health to develop a school food program to ensure that all children in Canada have access to healthy food.

The program outlined in Bill C-446 would also promote evidence-based healthy food education in schools across Canada. So far, that Private Member’s Bill is still in the very early stages in the House of Commons, having only gone through its first reading.

You can find more information about Saturday’s launch party by clicking here. Joyce said the proceeds from the launch party will go toward building a start-up fund that will allow the group to buy necessary food trays and equipment to get the program going.