Here's some food for thought: when children go to school hungry they have less energy and their memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, concentration and behaviour are negatively affected.
These words come from a report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2008 and they point the way to a simple solution - children need food to fuel their learning. But making sure every child has a healthy start to their day isn't always easy.
The Alberta government doesn't fund breakfast or snack programs so teachers make food available in their classrooms and schools develop partnerships with the community to help feed hungry students. And statistics show children in Lethbridge are more likely to be poor than their counterparts in the rest of Canada.
"We have children coming to our schools who are living in poverty," said Chris Smeaton, superintendent of the Holy Spirit Catholic school division. "I believe the stat for Lethbridge is one in five children are living in poverty in the Lethbridge area. We know that if children are coming to school hungry that has a significant impact on their learning."
"What we're determining from some national data is that the number of young people who do not have a proper breakfast is growing. National statistics indicate that upwards of 10 per cent of young don't. I think it's critical for us if we want the students to do well at school they need to be prepared for the day and that means not being hungry," said Barry Litun, superintendent of the Lethbridge public school division.
The Lethbridge Herald is launching its annual Food for Thought campaign today and inviting individual donors, groups and businesses to contribute. Six years ago the Lethbridge Herald created a charitable foundation to help provide school breakfast programs. Each year southern Albertans have given generously and together we have raised more than $165,000 for breakfast programs in the Lethbridge public and the Holy Spirit Catholic school divisions.
"We are very grateful to our readers for pitching in to help this worthy cause," said Coleen Campbell, Herald publisher. "Our whole community benefits when our children are well-fed and primed to learn. They are the citizens of tomorrow and our future."
"Whatever we get in terms of the Food for Thought is all distributed. I think we could probably use a considerable amount more," Smeaton said.
Schools typically offer foods like cereal, granola bars and milk - foods that are quick and nutritious. Smeaton dreams of the day when schools will have the facilities and funds to offer children hot breakfasts such as eggs or toast and jam.
"That's where we need to get to is eventually have some hot breakfast and hot lunch programs for all students that require it," Smeaton said.
The Lethbridge Herald is kicking off this year's campaign with a $1,500 donation. In addition, more than $14,000 was raised at a concert by American tenor Fernando Varela and sponsored by Ron Sakamoto earlier this year. Proceeds from the unofficial launch of the Cora restaurant in Lethbridge, with matching funds from Northside Scotiabank, will add more than $5,000 to the total and A&W will once again support our Food for Thought campaign.
Donations can be made in person between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at the Lethbridge Herald, 504 7 St. S., or sent to Lethbridge Herald, P.O. Box 670, Lethbridge, Alberta, T1J 3Z7. Please make cheques payable to the Lethbridge Herald Charitable Foundation. Tax receipts for donations of more than $5 are available upon request.
"As we've been able to support children who are living in circumstances where they don't necessarily have a full breakfast and, as we recognize the numbers that are increasing, it makes us even more appreciative to every one of the donors to the Food for Thought program," Litun said.
"Schools in the area rely on the community support and in the four years that I've been here there's been a tremendous amount of support from the community. We welcome that and we're very grateful for it," Smeaton said.