Wednesday was a busy morning at Roger Neilson Public School in Peterborough. The school’s normally bustling breakfast program had an air of sweet excitement as volunteers and staff prepared to honour its founder by renaming the program the Jim Barry Breakfast Club.
Barry founded the program two years ago, after hearing about the need for it from his sister, a teacher in the school.
“It’s great,” he says, “because it’s all about the kids. Healthy kids. You gotta eat, ya know?”
Half a dozen community volunteers busily prepared eggs, sausage, bacon and fruit — a hot breakfast for about 30 students who don’t always get one at home.
“What’s on the menu today?” asks one of the cooks. “We have egg wraps with cheese and sausage, and we have sausages, and of course, fresh brew.”
It’s another day, another hot meal. Jim Barry founded a branch of the Children’s Breakfast Club, a non-profit charitable organization established in 1984, that believes every child is entitled to a nutritious breakfast. It is most active in communities around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), but programs are also located at schools in Port Hope, Colborne, and Hastings. Barry’s program is now entering its second year, and principal Tony Lajoie says the program is changing things for the better.
“It’s made a huge difference in a lot of things at school. Achievement, behaviour, well-being,” he said.
Latest data from public health departments in the GTA suggests that roughly one in every five children in Canada goes to school on an empty stomach. Another national organization that supports school breakfast programs, Breakfast Club of Canada, estimates more than one million children can benefit from breakfast programs offered in schools, but funding for such programs can be difficult to come by.
According to a recent survey by Kellogg Canada, teachers frequently report positive changes in a child’s behaviour when they’ve had breakfast. According to the report, 93 per cent of teachers agree that hungry children are more disruptive in class.
An organizer with the Toronto organization, Children’s Breakfast Club, which sponsors the Roger Neilson program, says Barry’s fondness to help others was a clear sign the program would be successful in Peterborough.
“He was relaying a story to me saying how his sister used to keep some snacks and stuff in her desk drawer so when the kids were coming in and not having enough to eat, she would pass it on to them,” said Zubeda Nanji, of the Children’s Breakfast Club in Toronto. “And then he realized what we did at the Breakfast Club in the city, so he said would we look into setting up a club at Roger Neilson. We said, “Not a problem!”
It costs just 25 cents a day for the hot breakfast; those who don’t have the quarter to pay for it, get it for free.
While the number of children benefitting at this time of year is managed by six volunteers, in the dead of winter, the need is greater, Barry says. There could be as many as 60 children coming to school hungry.