Lack of food driving students to stay home from school: Board officials

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Hungry kids are staying away from school in growing numbers at the region’s largest school board, which is launching a first-ever fundraising campaign to help feed them.

While still waiting for promised government funding for school nutrition programs, Thames Valley District school board’s fundraising arm will begin to tackle food insecurity in an effort to provide “a stopgap” until other funding falls into place.

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“A lot of our families will chose to keep their kids home because they can’t send them to school with a lunch,” says Brittany Webb, executive director of the Thames Valley Education Foundation. “They stay home and our attendance rates at schools drop.”

Webb said whether students have food to eat at breakfast or lunch “directly affects attendance“ at school.

“They just don’t come,” she said.

This September, the foundation will launch a fundraising campaign to assist schools in operating nutrition programs.

“This is a new fund. We’ve never had anything like it before,” Webb said. “We will still be fundraising for our caring fund but we’ll be putting an extra effort in the community to directly support food security program.”

Nutrition programs vary across the Thames Valley District school board are operated by each school, she said. Recently, money that supported them from private sources has dwindled, she said.

“Those programs are heavily in use in some of our lower income areas,” Webb said. “Each school is able to set up and run a program on their own if they receive funding from private donors.”

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Traditionally, the Thames Valley Education Foundation raised money to help students and their families who needed emergency aid. Last year, that amounted to $300,000, Webb said. The caring fund provides up to $500 to help families with children enrolled at Thames Valley schools with needs such as food, winter clothing and mental health assistance.

Education director Mark Fisher said food insecurity “is a significant concern in communities” across the board. “It can be a barrier to school attendance.”

Jane Roy, co-director London Food Bank, said she’s “not surprised” students are staying home from school when they don’t have food to eat.

“It’s been so difficult for families to provide food for all of the family members. It’s really tough times out there due to inflation and the fact that food is a lot more expensive,” she said. “The fact that schools need to do that is difficult; it’s sad the school board has to get into that because there is so much need.”

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