$16,000 donation will buy more food for student nutrition program

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Wilma Hunninck, representing the Noelle’s Gift committee, presents a cheque for $16,000 to Al Davies, student nutrition coordinator with CK Public Health. The funds will go towards purchasing meals for school children in need. (Handout/Postmedia Network)

Noelle’s Gift has donated $16,000 to support meals for Chatham-Kent’s student nutrition program, which may be facing increased costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The charity, which was founded in memory of school teacher Noelle Paquette, has supported the program for several years.

Allan Davies, the student nutrition co-ordinator with CK Public Health, said all of the money goes towards buying the food, rather than equipment or salaries.

“In some cases, it means that a program will continue because of the added costs (this year),” he said of the donation. “We’re able to support the programs over and above what they (the schools) have received through any ministry grant applications.”

Davies said prior to the pandemic, a meal with a fruit and/or a vegetable, plus one other food group, would cost about $1, but that cost could be rising, depending on how each school is buying the food now.

“In the past, they would go to the local stores to do the shopping, but how comfortable are they (now) … in that shopping piece?” he said.

If the schools are using food delivery services, the costs will go up, he said.

Davies said each school can apply for grants with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which will cover between 11 and 13 cents per meal, so the donations make up the difference.

Other changes to the program have also had to happen, he said, including the cancelling of the breakfast program and the “grab and go” model between classes in high schools.

“The schools are relying on classroom delivery, so they’re putting together food, putting it in containers, delivering it to their classroom,” he said. “In that transition, we’re seeing about a 15 per cent increase in the number of students accessing the program right now.”

Based on reports received from Chatham-Kent schools, Davies said they usually have more than 12,000 students “accessing the program in some way” each day.

Nicole Paquette, Noelle’s sister and co-founder of Noelle’s Gift, said the charity supports the cause because nutrition is important to success in education.

“That’s a huge part of our mandate,” she said.

Paquette said she recognizes the program may need more support this year because of challenges due to the pandemic.

“We are being utilized even more than ever now,” she said. “Before the pandemic, it might have been a dollar (per meal), but I feel like it’s going to be a little more now.”

Davies said the program has also received donations recently from IODE Captain Garnet Brackin, the Tim Hortons Smile Cookie campaign, local church groups and the local Shriners.

“The generosity is definitely there,” he said. “People care about feeding kids.”

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