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Free Meals for Ontario Students Needed to Tackle Hunger Crisis, Advocates Say

Advocates call on the province to address food insecurity, Photo: Canva

Advocates are calling on the province to address food insecurity by providing free breakfasts and lunches to children in schools across Ontario. 

“Ontario and all parts of Canada and North America are seeing a cost of living crisis, with rising inflation and unaffordability of basic necessities,” reads a statement issued on Wednesday from the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

Calling on the government to address the issue, the Toronto Youth Cabinet has released a joint statement with 14 other stakeholders addressed to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Michael Parsa, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. 

“Ontario is facing a calamitous hunger crisis that calls on the government to act, and act urgently to address it. In Ontario the base funding of $28 million for student nutrition programs has remained consistent since 2014, despite the cost of food having increased dramatically over the last decade,” reads the joint statement. 

Signatories claim that many schools across the province are being forced to reduce the service of their nutrition programs or close programs completely due to a lack of resources to meet increasing demand. 

“That is why the Toronto Youth Cabinet and all underlying signatories are calling on the Province of Ontario to provide a universal free school breakfast and lunch program to all Ontario students. The province must also guarantee that schools are provided with the sufficient infrastructure, resources and funding to hire and train staff who will be responsible for preparing these nutritious meals,” the statement continues.

“In a province as wealthy and abundant as Ontario, it is unacceptable to have children be deprived of their right to food and adequate nutrition in supporting them to reach their full potential.”

Along with the Toronto Youth Cabinet,  signatories include Food Banks Canada, Breakfast Club of Canada, Daily Bread Food Bank, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, among others. 

“No young person should go hungry, but the simple truth is that far too many children are. The ramifications of food insecurity are far-reaching and have a profound impact not only on the health and well-being of individuals but also the quality of education they receive,” Stephen Mensah, executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, said in a statement. 

“The release of the joint statement and our calls for a universal free school breakfast and lunch program sends a clear and unified message to the Government of Ontario that a child’s right to food is not a luxury that should be experienced by few but a necessity deserved by all.”

According to a 2022 report from Feed Ontario, more than 587,000 people visited food banks across the province between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. This marks a 15 per cent increase compared to 2019, and the sixth year in a row that food bank use has increased. 

Feed Ontario is a group of 1,200 food banks and hunger relief organizations, that provides both support and programming to more than half a million people every year.

The group also reported in November 2022 that 32 per cent of food bank visitors over the past 12 months were under 18 years old.



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