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Push is on for all kids in B.C. to get free, healthy lunches

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Staff at George Jay Elementary school in Victoria were busy preparing a free, nutritious lunch on Tuesday for about 30 kids. It’s food for kids who otherwise might go without at lunch.

The school’s principal, Sarah Winkler, says the lunches are an important part of the day for many children.

“Being able to provide a healthy lunch for as many kids as need it -- everyday -- just changes their outlook tremendously,” said Winkler Tuesday.

The meals are funded by the province -- with money set aside in this spring’s budget. It’s a program providing $214 million over three years for school districts across B.C.

“It is first time ever in the history of British Columbia that we are investing this kind of money into a school meals program,” said B.C. Education Minister Rachna Singh.

Green Party MLA for Saanich North Adam Olsen applauds the funding, but is pushing to expand it -- to include free lunches for all kids across the province.

“By destigmatizing the environment... kids are not being identified unnecessarily and everybody has a chance to learn,” said Olsen.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Healthy School Food points out B.C. is leading the way amongst all provinces in funding lunches. Debbie Field, who heads up the national group, says it’s campaigning for Ottawa to contribute to school lunches across the country.

“We’re advocating that Canada join the other G7 countries -- and most of the developing countries in the world -- in having a cost shared program between levels of government,” said Field.

With the cost of food soaring, staff at George Jay Elementary predict the number of children benefiting from a free healthy lunch will hit 80 kids soon. They say they can accommodate that need based on how much the district has given them. They also emphasize the impact on the kids is striking.

“Their readiness to get to learning happens when we’ve fed them -- so we can’t get to learning if we don’t have full tummies,” said Winkler.

Singh says she welcomes federal support, and adds providing more provincial funding for school food isn’t off the table.

However, the province is awaiting feedback from the districts at the end of the three-year project.

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