Sweet and sour meatballs with rice, carrot coins, mandarin orange slices and milk. Barbecue chicken flatbread with sides of pasta salad, mixed veggies and pineapple pieces. Chicken penne alfredo with focaccia bread, cucumber slices and raisins.
At a suggested cost of $3.75 a meal, the non-profit School Lunch Association offers a non-stigmatized lunch program in 36 schools between St. John’s and Clarenville. Parents receive a menu calendar each month and choose which days they want to order lunch for their child, then pay what they can. While the suggested payment is $3.75, families are only required to pay what they can afford, and no one is the wiser.
“As a working parent, it makes my morning easier not having to come up with ideas for five days a week. It takes the monotony out of packed lunches,” said Leigh Ann LeBlanc, whose daughter, Sarah, is in Grade 2 at St. Peter’s Elementary school in Mount Pearl and participates in the program up to four times a week. “The meals are fantastic and in my opinion they have a good variety. I could not make and pack that same lunch for $3.75.”
Many would agree — on any given weekday, the association serves meals to close to 6,500 children. Some of their parents were upset Wednesday upon hearing the association is suffering consequences of last Friday’s record-setting snowstorm and subsequent week-long state of emergency, with dozens of frustrated comments and questions posted on the association’s Facebook site.
All schools on the Avalon Peninsula have been closed as a result and will remain so until Monday morning, allowing for the completion of snowclearing operations. The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District made the decision Tuesday to keep the schools closed for the week, saying its staff had been unable to access all the buildings and assess the safety risk for students due to the ongoing state of emergency in the St. John’s area.
The same is true for the School Lunch Association, which keeps its food in the kitchens of participating schools. Some of the schools are in areas that experienced power outages.
“We can’t go in now and evaluate schools or anything like that. We’re going to have to wait until Monday morning and we’ll go in and evaluate things,” explained Cyril Hayden, chairman of the association. “We don’t know if there’s any food spoilage, and of course if we’re not sure, well, it’s going to be thrown out.”
Food supply is another issue. Deliveries have been delayed due to the weather and state of emergency, and the association is asking parents to provide packed lunches for their children for Monday and Tuesday and to allow for menu substitutions for the rest of the week, giving it time to take stock and replenish.
“We have to evaluate the food that we have there, and then we have to get deliveries, and the delivery guy is saying to us now, ‘Look, can’t get there until Monday,’” Hayden said. “We’re asking parents to provide lunches for the first two days, but we may have lunches there. Whatever we can do, we’ll do.”
Hayden said the association will be paying its 80 employees for the work shifts they’ve missed this week.
“We don’t know if there’s any food spoilage, and of course if we’re not sure, well, it’s going to be thrown out.” Cyril Hayden, School Lunch Association chairman
For parents wondering about the meals they paid for and didn’t receive while school was closed, the association doesn’t offer credits, as such. Hayden suggests they alter their payment accordingly the next time they order.
“Our program is very simple. If you paid for it this time, take your credit yourself. Whatever you paid for, order the meals free next time,” he said.
LeBlanc posted on social media Wednesday, suggesting parents have some understanding of the challenges faced by the School Lunch Association, and urging anyone who is in a position to donate a little extra to the program to do so.
The organization, which receives $125,000 annually from the province, takes in an average of $2.69 per meal from students and requires $3.20 to break even, Hayden said. The rest comes from donations.
“I see the importance of the program. It’s widely used, my daughter loves it, and they are providing a wonderful service. They aren’t profiting like other cafeteria services,” LeBlanc told The Telegram. “They give back to the kids in our community, so if everyone that could afford to top up their payment a little did it, it would offset their losses and they would still be able to provide the same service to our kids.”