If you are hungry, learning is a challenge.

That is why more than three decades ago Ottawa teachers identified a need for a school breakfast program.

On a normal day, in pre-pandemic times, more than 13,500 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 in this region are fed a free nourishing meal through the program. 

Nothing is normal now. Those students are all learning remotely.

They cannot rely on school to be the place that nourishes their bodies and their minds. 

Heather Norris is the CEO and President of the Ottawa Network For Education, the organization responsible for the breakfast program.

In the early days of the pandemic, how those students were served quickly shifted. 

That shift, an increased need and rising food prices have the organization looking much-needed fundraising.  

"With extended school closures last year, we shifted the program to reach students learning at home. We created School Breakfast Learn-at-Home kits with a month's worth of shelf stable food," explains Norris. 

"To distribute kits we partnered with 51 community agencies; Ottawa Community Housing, emergency shelters, local food banks, and community health and resource centres, to help us feed students across all geographic areas of the city of Ottawa. Kits provided food to help families make ends meet, and help kids feel cared for and remembered by their schools and community."

With in-school learning in September 2021, Norris explains, the School Breakfast Program adapted COVID safety protocols to a 'Serve & Go' and classroom bin model.  The food had to be individually portioned and packaged. 

Norris saw an increase in the number of students accessing the food. 

"January 2022 finds us maneuvering once again," says Norris.  "With a return to online learning we are connecting with our school board partners, community partners and stakeholders to be responsive and efficient in supporting immediate and emerging needs."

The obvious need: fundraising.

"The costs associated with pre-packaged, single-serve foods are exponential in addition to increased participation. Example: Moving from loaves of bread to nutritious grain bars. Shifting from bags of milk to single-serve cartons."

"The food budget is greater than ever before. The recent Canada Food Price Report suggests an expected rise between five and seven per cent in 2022." 

Our energies are now focused on serving kids in the safest and most effective way possible whether learning in school, or at home.  

Norris and her team at the Ottawa Network For Education welcome donations and volunteers.  

"ONFE needs to raise $1,000,000 and engage over 3,000 volunteers from the local community each year to run these essential programs for K-12 students in Ottawa.

"The pandemic has brought with it increased need for support and increased costs across all programs. We also need virtual volunteers who can assist and inspire the children and youth we serve by sharing their professional knowledge, skills, and talents."

For more information, to make a donation or volunteer please visit www.onfe-rope.ca or call 613-366-3085 ext. 258.