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Calls grow for universal lunch program as N.S. school year resumes

Click to play video: 'Food insecurity top of mind as school year starts in N.S.'
Food insecurity top of mind as school year starts in N.S.
WATCH: Wednesday marked the first day of classes for many students across Nova Scotia. It's the first time in three years they're returning in September without a mask mandate. But as Graeme Benjamin reports, political leaders are raising concerns about food insecurity stemming from the pandemic. – Sep 7, 2022

With the school year officially back in full swing, the Nova Scotia Liberals and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union are calling on the provincial government to implement a universal school lunch program.

“People don’t have the means that they had prior to the pandemic. It has just gotten worse and worse,” said Patricia Arab, shadow minister of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Read more: COVID-19: Nova Scotia to open new school year without a mask mandate

According to Feed Nova Scotia, the number of people utilizing the services of food banks has nearly doubled over the past year, with over 100,000 Nova Scotians considered food insecure.

A universal lunch program has been implemented on Prince Edward Island, which provides children with two full meals a day throughout the school year. Arab is calling for the same in Nova Scotia.

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“(P.E.I.) has a non-profit group that runs it, it’s sent out to all of the schools and it provides hot lunches, so parents have a choice between a certain number of meals,” said Arab. “No additional resources are needed within the classroom … it would be a partnership with a non-profit.”

Click to play video: 'Back to School Safety'
Back to School Safety

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union notes that many Nova Scotians still don’t have a living wage, so they too feel a universal lunch program is necessary.

“Having a school food program, both breakfast and lunch, that’s universal, that’s healthy, that’s no cost to the kids, I think would be a huge pressure taken off parents,” said Ryan Lutes, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

“Teachers know best that poverty impacts their classroom every day. They certainly do their best to put Band-Aids on it, but they can’t do it alone.”

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Nova Scotia Education Minister Becky Druhan says they understand how important it is for children to have access to healthy food, and talks are underway with the federal government to expand the lunch program.

“We can, and are very interested in looking at ways to build a stronger system,” said Druhan. “I’ve had a number of conversations now with my colleague Minister (Karina) Gould at the federal level and we’ve convened teams provincially and federally to talk about what’s possible.

Read more: How Nova Scotia post-secondary institutions are handling masks this fall

But Arab says families and children can’t wait.

“We have willing and ready participants who could help facilitate this,” said Arab. “The government has done nothing. We’re back in school, and they’ve done nothing to help our kids.”

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