Well, my beloved “Breakfast Club” is no more.
Our Breakfast Club was the last of its kind in the province (Ontario), the last “sit down” model in existence.
When School Breakfast Programs began popping up in the 90s, the sit-down model WAS the model. In Ontario, SBPs started as a real grassroots movement. A few individuals saw the need, gathered support, raised the funds and organized volunteers. Each “club” operated independently from each other. Some were able to offer the program five days a week; others, limited by finances or lack of volunteers, only ran twice a week or whatever they could manage.
Our club was fortunate enough to have tremendous community support behind it. In the beginning it was primarily church groups who volunteered and made donations, but later came to include local business support as well.
It was my mom who worked tirelessly to secure funding and attract volunteers to keep our program running. She has a real knack for bringing out the best in people, and our club got to be kinda “famous” and struggling clubs would reach out to mom for help. Securing funds and volunteers was a perennial problem for most clubs and everybody wanted to know her “secret”. She was invited to speak to community groups across the region to tell her story, how this legally-blind senior citizen mobilized a community to care. Successful breakfast clubs began popping up everywhere.
Eventually, somebody smart said, Hey, instead of running all these independent clubs, why don’t we pool our resources and spread them around so that struggling clubs can benefit from successful ones? Makes sense, right?
That was how Nutrition for Learning was born. The original purpose of the NFL was to secure start-up funding for new breakfast programs (for equipment purchases, like a fridge, toasters, kitchen tools, etc. – whatever you would need to put together breakfast for 45 or so kids each day) as well as coordinate cash and food donations for the individual programs. They ensured that all volunteers were properly screened, and arranged for free food-safety training for volunteer food-handlers.
Those were good days, when NFL acted as an umbrella group for independent breakfast clubs. Unfortunately, it eventually morphed into something else and began imposing oversight on independent clubs, dictating how much could be spent per meal, what foods were acceptable and which ones could not be served. You know, typical bureaucracy. Over the last 5 years or so, every former “sit-down” club moved to the “bin” model, which is much, much different.
Under the sit-down model, the children entered the school 45 minutes before classes and assembled in the gym for their breakfast. They choose from the variety of hot and cold foods offered (it’s different each day) and then proceed to the tables to eat with their friends. When they are finished eating, they move to the back of the gym where my mom had a craft and games table to keep the kids occupied until dismissal time. The children then leave, happy and fed, ready to start learning.
Under the “bin” model, children in need of a meal must enter class with the other children, then tell the teacher they need something to eat. They are then sent down to the office where they are allowed to choose some breakfast from the “bins” – a piece of fruit, a cheese string, a baggie of dry cereal or perhaps a muffin if they are available. They hurriedly eat their meal in the hall and then return to class.
I hate this model. It is so wrong. The one thing mom was adamant about was NOT SHAMING the children for their need. Everyone was welcome, regardless of their circumstances. The bin model, on the other hand, calls out their neediness, puts it on display for all to see and judge. They’re children, for goodness sake! They didn’t create their neediness and they certainly don’t need our judgement.
Mom vowed that our club would never use that model, even if she had to fund every penny herself. Alas, even that option has been taken from us.
Breakfast Club is no longer. The school board, at the provincial government’s behest, has shut it down. Too risky, you see, and there may actually be some truth to that – a good portion of our volunteers are retired seniors, the segment of the population most at risk. But you know, it would have been nice if somebody asked, because I’m pretty sure that we could still run it even if every senior quit.
Social distancing would be a real problem – it’s a VERY small kitchen, and I guess working with food, even with masks and gloves, poses its own risks.
So I get it – I don’t think we could make it work logistically – but I ain’t happy about it.
In truth, I’m really stinkin’ sad to see it end and close this chapter of my life.
But so, so glad I got to be a part of it while it lasted. It was worthy work, and I cherish every moment I got to spend being God’s Hands in the world, dispensing His grace.
Best. Job. Ever.
2 thoughts on “End of an Era – The Other Victims of “Covid””
I’m sorry that this good work has been closed, and not for a good reason. So glad that children were blessed by it over the years while it was running. J.
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Me too, J, me too.
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