GES lunch program cancelled after 20 years
As of last week, the Gabriola Elementary School (GES) lunch program is no more.
The program, which provided lunches for students, regardless of financial need, was 100 per cent community funded. Parents paid $3 to $4 per meal.
Francine Frisson, assistant superintendent for School District 68, said the school made the decision and SD68 senior administrators approved it. The Board of Trustees was aware of the discussion but was not involved in the decision.
Outgoing GES principal, Tricia McKay, declined to comment.
According to Francine, school and district staff felt donors were being misled with regards to the financial need of students accessing the program.
“I don’t think many of the parents were even aware of the fact that when they paid for the lunch program they didn’t actually pay for the full amount.”
Francine said each meal costs between $7 and $7.50. Community donations covered the discrepancy.
“In our opinion it is not OK to fundraise, making it feel and sound like we’re fundraising for the very needy children on Gabriola, and the amount of money that was fundraised does not correspond to the number of children who need food.
“Usually the amount that is fundraised [at a school], equals the amount that is needed to feed hungry children.
“We do not fundraise to subsidize lunches for children whose parents can perfectly afford it.”
Francine stressed that children who require food – breakfast, lunch, snacks – will still receive it.
“Needy children who need food on Gabriola will continue to be fed.” No decisions have been made yet on how the new program will work, but will be for September.
Carmen Mattes was the lunch program’s co-ordinator for the last 14 years. Along with preparing the meals, she has done the bulk of the fundraising required to run the program for the last eight years.
“I’m really, really sad about it. It was a 20-year program.”
According to the program’s supporters, nearly 200 letters supporting the program were sent to the school board.
Francine said many people who wrote in appeared to be under the impression that there was a high need on the island.
Francine said the PAC was involved in discussions leading up to the cancellation. Iyeshka Farmer, PAC president, does not feel they were adequately consulted.
“The PAC, parents and community supporters of the lunch program are deeply disappointed with this decision by SD68. We are frustrated with the way this has been handled and don’t feel that we were consulted adequately or heard at all.
“The lunch program was an integral part of the heart and spirit of Gabriola Elementary.
“We will be meeting over the summer and in September to process the implications of the closure of the program by SD68, and to discuss options we may consider pursuing.”
Kathryn Molloy, PHC executive director, has proposed a meeting at PHC (675 North Rd.) for Monday, July 30 at 4:30 p.m. for anyone interested in discussing what to do next. The PAC will be participating.
“We want to be sure that program doesn’t get shut down,” Kathryn said.
She said she’s not sure what role PHC could have in resurrecting the program, but said a possibility is using PHC’s kitchen to prepare the meals.
“If [the program cannot be saved] then somehow maybe PHC can help to facilitate the program under our umbrella.”
Francine said SD68 is open to input on how the program could be facilitated, but that ultimately the decision is made by the principal in consultation with parents and staff.