Local poverty advocates call for national food strategy for children and youth

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GuelphMercury.com – news/local
Sep 10 2012.   Joanne Shuttleworth, Mercury staff

GUELPH — Local poverty advocates are calling on the federal government to introduce a national food strategy for children and youth including aboriginal children and get rid of the patchwork of programs currently in place that rely on volunteer labour and donated food to operate.

“We don’t have a significant Aboriginal population here, but there are a significant number of students that go without food each day and the only mechanism to feed them is Food and Friends,” said Peter Thurley, development co-ordinator for the Food and Friends program.

“Canada is one of the few industrialized countries that doesn’t have a food program for children.”

Food and Friends operates 80 breakfast and snack programs in schools in Guelph and Wellington County, providing meals to some 13,000 students.

It is known that hunger affects academic performance, attendance, student behaviour, and graduation rates. A nutritious diet improves a child’s health, aids proper brain growth and can reduce long-term health effects like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

“We have a very generous community, but food prices rise for us as well, making it more difficult to reach our goals. And it may mean more kids will need our help, at a time when we can serve fewer of them,” Thurley said.

The Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, Food and Friends, and the Food Access Working Group have written a letter to the local sitting MPs asking them to support a national child and youth food strategy and a fully-funded on-reserve aboriginal student meal program.

David Thornley, co-chair of the poverty task force, said food security, stable housing and adequate income are closely aligned when it comes to moving people off social assistance and on to independence.

He said from 1945 to 1960 there was co-operation between federal and provincial governments to create a national housing strategy for returning war veterans and similar agreements created the national health-care system we have today.

“There aren’t simple solutions to these problems, but the solution starts with a fundamental commitment,” he said.

“We’re asking government to make that commitment.”

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