The school is still sleepy and slow, when the first wave of kids begins to stream in at W.H. Morden in Oakville. They disappear down the quiet hallways to drop off coats and backpacks before making their way into the breakfast room. It’s always the same faces, sometimes straggling in on their own, but often arriving in groups. The picnic tables that stretch from one end of the room to the other give the space the feeling of a familiar café — where friends can gather to swap stories and jokes over a meal.
There are over 600 students in the school community, and the hot breakfast program has been running for over 20 years, thanks to its dedicated volunteers.
Typically, students line up outside the kitchen to place their orders, knowing exactly how they like their toast or whether or not they feel like having eggs that day. Older students help younger students to carry their plates back to the tables and there are always smiles and thank yous. There’s no rush to finish eating and clear out of the space, and the 30 to 40 kids who make use of the program each morning often linger long after their plates have been cleared.
At the beginning of the new school year, the volunteer team met to discuss the second wave of students that arrive by bus moments before the bell rings to usher the kids to their classrooms. A large portion of the student population is bussed in, and those kids were missing out on access to the program. Following the example of other schools that have partnered with Halton Food For Thought, the team introduced a cart of grab-and-go foods in last October, to be placed outside the door of the breakfast room and allow students to take food with them.
This was a new and unfamiliar change to the program for the regular breakfast program attendees, and it was definitely a new concept for other students at the school. We began by having a volunteer at the cart to help introduce the idea of to-go food. Standing in our aprons, we gave the appearance of being a sample table in a grocery store, and we noticed how intrigued the students were from the first day.
At first we were getting students who slowed down but didn’t stop to take food. It wasn’t until a student bravely asked whether he had to be enrolled in the breakfast program to take food from the cart, that we understood the importance of reminding the school community the breakfast program was completely inclusive and available to everyone.
The cart has since become a wonderful success story and has been instrumental in bridging the gap between students who were using the hot breakfast program and those who either didn’t know about it or who thought it was only for students in need.
There’s now a new gathering of students at W.H. Morden’s breakfast program each day. And students who only saw one another in classes or outside at recess now exchange their first hellos of the day while choosing fresh fruit or granola bars to throw into their backpacks or munch on as they walk to class. It’s been such a success that we are now exploring the idea of additional carts at other entrances to the school.
As a volunteer team, we are not only glad to see more of our student population being fed well and having access to nutritional food; we are thrilled to see the stigma of a breakfast program being broken down and inclusivity growing in our school community.
Written by Volunteer Program Coordinator Louise Gleeson, WH Morden Public School in Oakville