With inflation and rising food costs continuing to be an issue in the Lower Mainland, Surrey schools are facing budgeting pressures for meal programs that help feed an increasing number of students from low-income backgrounds.
The district’s meal programs provide breakfast and lunch to students who need them. Typically, these consist of nutritious, well-balanced food options and beverages, offered to both elementary and secondary students.
On Aug. 29, those programs got a significant boost, with the announcement that Surrey schools will receive nearly $8 million in funding from the province to help cover costs.
B.C. government’s one-time funding announcement could not have come at a better time, said Ritinder Matthew, associate director of communication services for Surrey Schools, noting the school district is dealing with “significant budget pressures due to inflation, including the rising cost of food.”
“Research has proven that children need enough good food to learn,” Julie Stephenson, manager of Food and Nutrition Services with the district noted in a Surrey Schools release last spring.
“It’s really important to their learning to let them concentrate and move ahead in their schoolwork rather than focusing on feeling crabby or hungry.”
Of the $60 million provided in a one-time funding to school districts across B.C., Surrey, the largest district in the province, is receiving the biggest share — $7.385 million.
“Our board is very pleased with this announcement. We have continued to advocate for our most vulnerable students and their families,” Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education notes.
“This funding will support our breakfast and lunch program as well as support families facing financial barriers for school supplies and school and extracurricular activities. Our goal is to ensure that every student is supported and able to fully participate in school.”
More than 2,000 Surrey students currently rely on the breakfast and lunch programs. The new funding will allow the district to continue to provide meals for children and youth who are already part of the program, while also providing for any incoming students, with the start of the new school year.
Because of strict budgeting due to inflation, the school district relies heavily on donors and the Ministry of Education to help fulfill the need.
Many donors also increased their donations to the district during the last school year, so that rising food costs did not affect students’ access to the meal programs.
In addition — according to the Surrey Schools website — parents pay $1 a month, or as much as they can, to help fund the meal programs offered to their children.
Last school year, the district served breakfast at 60 schools, and lunch at 34, through the meal programs. This year, 69 schools will provide breakfast and 32 will provide lunch, but the district is looking to “increase capacity” soon with the support of donors, Matthew said.