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Sep4WedIn Gander, N.L., an Army food program improves attendance and academic performance. September 4, 2019 by Linda Leigh
When Danette Hicks, a housing support worker with The Salvation Army’s community and family services in Gander, N.L., learned that hungry children were falling through the cracks, losing social connections and lagging behind at school, she developed a program to ensure that the problem of absenteeism didn’t continue.
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In January 2019, Newfoundland and Labrador’s child and youth advocate issued a report stating that many children and youth in the region are absent from school for at least 18 days every year. One of the biggest reasons why is that they don’t have food to bring for lunch and are going hungry.
“The Food for Thought bagged lunch program started with one bagged lunch for a local child who missed school for an entire week because the parents couldn’t afford to provide a lunch,” says Danette. “Now, with the support of volunteers, we prepare and deliver more than 160 lunches to local schools every week.”
“The lunches come in discrete packaging and are student specific,” says Greg Drover, Gander Collegiate’s principal. “The nutritious meal helps them stay focused and we are seeing an improvement in attendance and academic performance.”
Danette asks parents what their children prefer, to make sure the lunch is eaten. Then lunch bags are filled with tailor-made sandwiches, yogurt, a juice box, fruit and snacks for recess.
“Many families I encounter are struggling financially to meet their basic needs beyond housing,” she says. “For most, after rent and utility expenses are covered, there is very little money left for food.
“Our goal is to ensure there are no hungry children in our schools. The success of the program is largely due to the fact that the community has embraced it wholeheartedly with significant practical and financial support. We are sincerely grateful.”