As food prices soar, Ottawa’s school breakfast program is facing more demand from Ottawa families and students.

“The trend that we have seen in the past year, and we consider will continue heading into this school year, is an increase in need and students wanting access to the program, and also waitlists of schools,” said Heather Norris, president and CEO of the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE), the organization that runs Ottawa’s Breakfast Program.  

 “Pre-COVID, we served 13,500 meals every school day and coming off of last school year we were serving 16,000-17,000 meals every school day,” she said.  

According to the ONFE, four unnamed Ottawa schools are waiting to be added into the program.

“For the first time ever, we have had waitlists of schools that want to be onboarded into the program. Because schools were not purpose-built for a food program, we have to get them fridges, toasters, utensils and things they might need to successfully run a food program,” said Norris.

The ONFE’s school breakfast program is available in all public school districts in Ottawa. It is funded by donations as well as government and is usually brought into a school by a principal, teacher or other member of the community who asks the ONFE to start a program. Once the program is in a school, all students are able to access it.

Not having such a program would have a wide-ranging negative impact, say some who are involved with it. In an email, Beatrice Ocquaye, principal at Robert E. Wilson Public School in Vanier, said the breakfast program is an integral part of her school.

 “We do have parents who will call to let us know their child will need food for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they have run out of funds, they are in a shelter without access to a kitchen or they want their child to be able to have access to the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

These thoughts were echoed by Alana Mulrain, an educator and organizer for the breakfast program at York Street Public School.

“With York Street P.S. being located smack dab in the middle of a low-income area, our food programs have always played an essential role in our day to day. Over the past year I have certainly noticed a trend. The kids are coming to school hungrier, and the requests for school-made lunches are up,” she said in an email to Capital Current.

For Mulrain, being able to provide food to children in school is a necessity.

 “Without the food programs at York, I feel like our day-to-day operations would look much different. For some of our students the food they receive at school may be the only food they have during the day. We (as a staff) know that we cannot expect kids to learn when their basic needs are not met,” she said.