Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder
The plan for delivering school food out of the new stream of provincial funding is taking shape for Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.
The B.C. government announced the ongoing feeding futures fund in the spring, meant to increase access to food in schools around the province. NLPS received nearly $1.7 million for the 2023-24 year.
Cafeteria programs at the four secondary schools that have them, including Nanaimo District Secondary School, will remain unchanged but will likely receive additional funds for purchasing food, NLPS says. Roughly $418,000 of the funding will be used to cover salaries for cafeteria program staff and teachers.
The elementary level presents a greater challenge of how best to allocate funding as schools currently have different programs in place, including working with external partners, the school district said, and intends to convene a working group to hammer out details.
Currently the school district anticipates it will deliver 750 meals per day at the elementary school level in the form of bulk purchase of small breakfast items and lunch items such as wraps and sandwiches and healthy snacks like fruit. Delivering that will require centralized support, the district says, but there is currently no third party, including the Nanaimo Ladysmith Schools Foundation, with the capacity to deliver that volume.
“The scale the district requires would likely require either additional partners or capital support for the expansion of the current infrastructure,” a memo to the business committee says. Posting a request for interest and qualification is under consideration.
How the 750 meals per day plan will fit into existing food programs at elementary schools, including ones organized by external organizations, is unclear at this time. Staff said a progress report will likely be presented to trustees in October.
To deliver meals, additional staff time will be needed at each school and the district is contemplating directing some child youth and family support workers’ (CYFSWs) and education assistants’ (EAs) hours to the task but “also don’t want to stretch staff,” Secretary Treasurer Mark Walsh told the business committee at their June 14 meeting. The provincial funds allow for the hiring of new staff to run food programs, but the school district said it is not planning that yet. “It’s going to be a growth process,” Walsh said.
About 16 per cent of the province’s one-time student family affordability funding, which preceded the feeding futures fund announcement, remains for the school district to expend. That funding from the province was intended to target inflationary pressures felt by families and has been used for items like grocery store gift cards, clothing and transportation. NLPS secondary schools have reported concerns about no longer being able to provide bus passes to students. The school district is now faced with “boomeranging” back to the level of resources available before the fund was provided, Walsh reported to the business committee. NLPS is “becoming quite concerned that this fund is going to disappear and there’s a lot of people that have relied on it through the year,” Walsh said.