The Breakfast Club of Canada has been providing schoolchildren with wholesome, healthy breakfasts for 25 years. Starting in Quebec and quickly spreading nationwide, today the organization is comprised of 1,643 clubs across the country, with 59 in Montreal and 11 in Laval, and they serve more than 36 million breakfasts per year. I’m proud to say that my 5-year-old son and I are two of the 17,500 volunteers who set their alarms for ungodly hours so we can give our fellow students the best start to their day: a nutritious breakfast.
“Students are not only served. This is an organization that’s for students with students, and for us, this is a key component,” said Judith Barry, Director of Impact and Sustainability at Breakfast Club of Canada. “We want to nourish empty stomachs but also nourish each child’s potential, to give the students a variety of role models. We believe the first concrete step is providing the most important meal of the day. If they start their day on the right foot, they will learn and concentrate better, and be the best versions of themselves.”
At our school in Greenfield Park, 212 of just over 300 students are signed up for Breakfast Club. Every day we serve more than 100 well-balanced meals to children who are dropped off early, plus prepare classroom bins with breakfast for the students that come in later. The Club is run by several adult volunteers (most of whom have grown children who aren’t even at our school anymore) as well as students of all ages who pitch in. In a single week, we’ll have handed out toast, bagels, cereal, eggs, and English muffins, plus prepared fresh fruits, yogurt, cheese, milk, and juice. Breakfast Club is a non-profit, so it relies solely on corporate sponsors and donations to provide each school with an assortment of healthy food.
“All of the funding we raise through national campaigns and corporate or individual donations goes to the breakfast programs,” Barry said. “Not only that, but it’s our job to make sure the support and supervision are there, too. Beyond the food and equipment needed, we make sure they have the best practices implemented. In terms of funding and the necessary resources, part of the process is sharing the responsibility.”
The most surprising thing is, there is no government support or funding for these breakfast clubs… yet.
“We’re the only G7 country without a national school meal program, and we know that we can’t do it alone,” Barry said. “We need to collaborate with regional organizations, passionate schools, community volunteers and parents, private corporations, and, more than ever, with the government.”
Things look promising. Recent discussions with the provincial government have definitely generated more interest, and Barry is hopeful they’ll realize the importance of working together to create a program where every school has a breakfast program. “It should be for students who need it and for students who want it. Whether it’s daily or just twice a week, they need to know it’s available.” In fact, there are still 522 schools that are on the Breakfast Club waiting list.
The benefits are plentiful for a child who starts the school day with a healthy breakfast. Children have improved learning skills because hunger-related stress has been alleviated, and there’s better attendance, punctuality, nutritional awareness, as well as improved behaviour. Students experience a sense of belonging, and it helps with community building and connectedness too. After all, this is a “club”. “The socialization is a big part of it and a key ingredient of the breakfast programs,” said Barry.
Student involvement in the programs has led to the creation of Breakfast Club of Canada leadership camps, which have been ongoing for several years and are sponsored by huge national corporations like Tim Horton’s and The Children’s Foundation. “We have more than 6000 young volunteers in Canada, and those students are not the leaders of tomorrow but the leaders of today. We want to invest in them, build their skills and empower them,” Barry explained. Every year, three or four regional leadership camps take place as a way to recognize those young leaders who are involved in breakfast programs. They discuss challenges they’re facing in their own
Breakfast Clubs, brainstorm solutions, propose new projects, and collaborate with other students from across the country.
“We started as a little local community organization and rapidly grew into a provincial and then a national organization 25 years later,” Barry said. “The spirit of Breakfast Club of Canada is about focusing on the needs, which we have done, but there are still huge needs. And there’s still a lot of work to do.”
For more information on how you can donate to Breakfast Club of Canada or help volunteer with the organization, visit their website at www.breakfastclubcanada.org