Good food is now available to all students at Berwick and District School, and it needn’t cost them a thing.
The school launched its first healthy eating project last year with chef and food advocate Jenny Osburn’s salad bar, and quickly noticed not all kids could afford the $3.50 lunch price.
She and school principal Bill Doucet knew something more was needed.
She worked with other food stakeholders and establish the Berwick School Food Project – a pay-what-you-can system ensuring all students get a full meal no matter what they can pay.
“There wasn’t a stigma-free way for these kids to get healthy food, so we needed to create a way for all kids to get fed healthy food at school,” says Osburn.
The project kicked off April 15, one year after the school launched its salad bar. Concerns around stigma had become apparent when some students sat out of the salad bar selection.
Osburn says it was then they realized offering free salads to these students didn’t entirely solve the problem.
“We needed a way for these kids to get something to eat without taking a big risk in asking,” she says.
With Maryanne Carty’s hot breakfast program already feeding more than 100 students each day at the school, Doucet says the number needing lunches could be similar.
“Those kids are hungry a couple hours later. So we needed to figure out a way to include these kids in the lunch program, too,” he says.
The project sends forms home to families to fill out and indicate which lunches their child will order. The daily cost is $4, but whether families contribute $4 or $0, their student still receives food.
The orders arrive back at school and are sorted by one person who separates the money from the order sheet.
This ensures the identity of students and what they paid is separate from the food orders themselves.
“We still find most people pay full price, but we have a number of people who pay less. And that’s ok – we have the means and ability to make sure the kids are fed, and that’s what this project is all about,” says Doucet.
Osburn has a child at the school and volunteers alongside other parents and community members to help roll out the project during the school day.
She says with other Nova Scotia schools expressing interest in starting similar projects, she and other project volunteers are collecting anonymous data on how many students the project serves, its expenses and how to make the process a sustainable one that can continue.
“We’re hopeful – this could change the way cafeterias are run,” she says.