Every morning at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary, breakfast is served to those who need it.
The program, now going into its second year, is organized by teachers Tai St. Pierre and Ray Kline for anyone who needs access to a nutritious breakfast.
“We started the breakfast program because it was the only school I’d been to that didn’t have an existing food program for students, so we thought that was something lacking in our school community, and we decided to start it,” St. Pierre said.
Breakfast is available every morning from 8-8:40 a.m. in the cafeteria. St. Pierre noted it is run mostly by volunteers from the school’s justice club, but anyone can help out. “They just have to come see us and let us know what week they want to sign up for.”
Kline said they serve about 40 students a day, providing them with a nutritious breakfast they might not be able to get at home to hopefully help them focus better in class, or “sometimes kids who are just rushed in the morning come and grab something.”
Sisters Jasfia and Junaya Nielsen have been volunteering for the breakfast program since it first started, saying they wanted to contribute to the school in a positive way.
READ MORE: Peter Skene Ogden hosts Indigeneity Day
“When Ms. St. Pierre first mentioned starting a breakfast program at the school, I remember how we talked about how more kids than people think live in poverty circumstances and can’t afford meals like breakfast,” Jasfia said. “I just felt the need to help them if I could.”
Junaya added, “It allows kids to have access to food in the morning. Food is very important. It helps jumpstart your day and brain, so having access to a healthy breakfast is important especially when your brain is developing.”
Jasfia said she is happy the breakfast program is continuing despite COVID-19 because it’s so beneficial.
“I think something PSO tends to lack is a sense of community,” she said. “The breakfast program helps with establishing this by looking out for students who may feel uncared for, or simply need something to eat.”
The girls have also seen a positive reaction from their peers, who understand the importance of the program even if they don’t use it regularly themselves, Jasfia said. They noted the breakfast program has progressed over the last two years. In the beginning, with limited funding, they only had two options for breakfast, white or whole wheat bread, and they could only afford to give students one slice. Now they have a variety of options and even occasionally do special breakfast items.
“As time went on, we started to get new faces coming to the program in the morning, which in turn led to more funding. So, the breakfast program has made great strides since we started and continues to make a positive impact on our school,” Junaya said.
“People really appreciate having it there for them in the morning to rely on, so all the reviews and regards towards the program have been positive.”
Both girls said it’s motivating to help their peers and teachers to play a larger part in improving the school. They also noted that volunteering for the breakfast program is different than their previous volunteer work, as it will continue long after they have graduated.
“It’s going to keep progressing and growing, reaching out to future generations that will attend PSO,” Jasfia said. “Knowing that it makes me proud that I helped lay the foundation. Even if I didn’t do much, it’s great to know that I helped things get started.”
Junaya added she has met a lot of new students coming into our school and her volunteer work allows her to “set a positive example of what it means to volunteer and participate in activities at PSO.”
The Nielsen sisters are hoping the breakfast program continues to progress and improve their classmates’ mornings. “I hope the program contributes to a positive shift in the school,” said Jasfia. “PSO needs to become a more caring and nurturing environment in many aspects, and I hope the breakfast program contributes to this.
“It’s a program that students can rely on to start their day right and not have to worry about spending their mornings starving.”
Lauren Keller is a Peter Skene Ogden student who is doing her Capstone project with the 100 Mile Free Press.