Kids lined up to walk through a mock grocery store Thursday during the announcement of the School Food Program.
The Regina Food Bank has partnered with Regina Public Schools and the Regina Catholic School Division to combat food insecurity and improve attendance. The program will provide students with food hampers and with recipes they can use to cook with their families.
On Thursday in the Scott Collegiate gym, kids got to partake in a grocery store simulation experience, picking out some of their favourite items for tasty meals. Each student was given a reusable grocery bag while they picked out items for meal.
On the menu was spaghetti. Students picked up items for the recipe, including packages of pasta and cans of tomatoes with mushrooms, onions and carrots to make the sauce.
The students then made their way down to the snack section, where they could choose from apple sauce and granola bars.
Currently, 43 per cent of Regina Food Bank users are children. John Bailey, the CEO of the food bank, said the program will feed more than 2,000 students.
“I think as a part of a caring community, it is important to take care of folks who are vulnerable …” said Bailey. “Programs like this not only get us to serve the acute need, but through partnership from school and hoping to affect positive education outcomes, we can also act as outcomes to break food insecurity.”
After a successful test trial of the School Food Program, Bailey said the food bank had enough support to expand to eight schools in Regina. The 2021 trial took place at Albert Community School and Scott Collegiate.
“What the pandemic has shown us is that just how important the connection to food is,” said Bailey. “When the schools went to online learning, we delivered food hampers to the schools across both public and Catholic systems.”
Bailey said the program will be available in the summer months for students and their families to come and pick up food hampers.
AGT Foods is partnering with the program to fund $75,000 in food donations for the next three years and the Knight Automotive Group has partnered to fund $60,000 in food on a one-year partnership.
Michelle Al-Katib, a representative of AGT Foods, believes the connection between nutrition and learning will help students.
“Kids do not choose the circumstances in which they have a home,” said Al-Katib. “They do not have the opportunities to go out and buy their own food. It’s up to us to make sure kids have the food they need so they can be successful at school and be happy and healthy, contributing members of the community.
“It’s important because kids who are hungry cannot focus on what they need to do at school.”
The newly launched program already supports 902 students and their families. Bailey thinks the program will be able to connect more children with education.
“Food is an incredibly powerful enabler of learning and achievement,” he said. “Quite frankly, if it can act as an incentive to make sure kids stay in class, that’s fantastic because the more contact we can get between students and school staff, the better (students’) outcomes are going to be.”
Costs of inflation on groceries have put a strain on food banks in Saskatchewan. Each hamper is getting more expensive, but Bailey said the food bank is prepared for a low donation year.
“We are well aware of the effects of inflation on both folks who face food insecurity but also those who face the Regina Food Bank,” said Bailey. “As an organization that is dependent on the support of our community, we are planning on this being a leaner year.
“We always hope that people can find a way to donate to our food bank, but knowing as budgets get tighter (and) knowing things like a disposable income for things like charitable contributions goes down … we’re planning for a year with lower donations and increased need.”