Nutritious meal program gets tested at Pain Court school

Silvia Martens, a volunteer with Cathren's "Bon Appetit" and We Are One Partners, right, places a bun on Ecole elementaire catholique Sainte-Catherine student Emily Lamarche's lunch tray as Alyston Lapp and Octavia Thibeault wait in line Dec. 3, 2019. The organization was in the school to test out a free nutritious lunch program it is proposing to the federal government. Tom Morrison/Chatham This Week

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A group looking for federal funding to start a free nutritious meal program in schools has tested the initiative on its own for the third time.

Cathren’s “Bon Appetit” and We Are One Partners visited École élémentaire catholique Sainte-Catherine in Pain Court on Dec. 3 with pasta, salad, watermelon and rolls for the children’s lunches.

The volunteers previously brought meals to Chatham Christian school and St. Agnes Catholic school in June.

While those were both successful, Sally Joyce, the group’s education and community builder, said they’ve made some changes this time.

“We need to watch portion sizes a little bit more,” she said. “On tests, it’s difficult because what will happen when it’s up and running regularly is they’ll be the same servers and they’ll start to recognize children and their appetite sizes.”

Joyce said there was more food waste than they expected last time, which some of the children pointed out. The group is now working with some of their partners to be able to compost if the program takes off.

While they served the food to some of the students on stainless steel trays, they also tested out a biodegradable tray at Sainte-Catherine.

Joyce said the stainless steel tray could be too heavy and it’s more expensive, so they are testing to see which trays would work best.

The food was prepared this time by Laurie Laprise with support from Willow Ridge Golf and Country Club.

The volunteers served food to about 230 students, while St. Agnes, for example, had “just over 100” students, said Joyce.

Joyce and Cathy Staal, the founder of the group, started working towards this project in 2006. In the 2019 federal budget, the government announced it would work with provinces and territories towards a national school food program.

The group has since presented its plan to the federal government. The goal is to be able to provide free lunches five days a week in Chatham-Kent schools.

In October, the Chatham-Kent board of health voted in favour of writing a letter in support of the program to the federal government. Dr. David Colby, Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health, also asked to include his endorsement on the letter.

“Any letter of support or endorsement that we get to show that yes, we’re behind these people and we want to see this succeed, it does help,” said Joyce. “Every little bit helps.”