Because a great day starts with a great breakfast, the Mission of St. Saviour, aka 'Team Jesus,' joined parent volunteers, staff and students for the Wabamun School Community Breakfast on January 26.
Research shows that 60 per cent of a child’s learning happens before the noon bell. With financial support from the Breakfast Club of Canada, as well as donations of time and money from community groups and parent volunteers, Wabamun School’s 98 students have access to a nutritious morning meal and healthy snacks throughout the day.
Breakfast Club organizer Colleen Atkinson shops for groceries and coordinates and supervises volunteer crews in order to provide students with a healthy start to their day.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t know anyone,” says Atkinson. “I started helping with the Breakfast Club. When the person who brought it here moved away, I just kept on. We’re trying to build community and I’ve gotten to know a wonderful bunch of people in this kitchen.” She helps with the breakfasts Monday through Friday and also creates healthy menus featuring the likes of breakfast sandwiches, banana wraps, fruit cups, yogurt parfaits, smoothies, bagels, even grilled cheese sandwiches. She also fills grab ’n go baskets with fresh fruit and granola bars for the school office. Throughout the day, anyone who is hungry for a snack can stop by and see school secretary Debbie Harris.
“It’s nice for the students to go to class on a full tummy,” says Harris.
“I love the breakfast program,” said parent volunteer Candy, pouring glasses of orange and apple juice for pajama-clad kids as they happily file into the gym (Friday was PJ Day at school). “It’s the only way I can get my son to eat before school.”
Breakfast is brain food and yet one out of five kids in Canada is at risk of starting the school day on an empty stomach. The Breakfast Club of Canada is endeavouring to improve those statistics. As of July, 2017, there were 118 Breakfast Clubs in Alberta, 22 of which provide healthy morning meals to more than 2,500 Edmonton area students every school day. In addition to offering breakfast programs in schools and communities across the country, the Breakfast Club of Canada drives social change on a larger scale by training volunteers to build community engagement.
“A lot of young families are choosing Wabamun as a smaller, more affordable place to live,” says Charlene Smylie, mayor of the village of 700. “This opportunity to bring everyone together for breakfast has made a huge difference to our community and it just wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers.”
School Principal Les Worthington agrees that the Breakfast Club and its success are volunteer-driven. He says having the space to welcome volunteer groups such as St. Saviour’s church has also been beneficial to the program. A couple of years ago, Parkland School Division and community groups pooled their resources to convert a former locker room into a functional school kitchen. The kitchen is adjoined to the gym providing easy access for volunteers carrying food out and cleaning up after breakfast.
“When a child’s basic needs are met their learning potential is far greater,” says Worthington. Balanced meals lead to improvements in concentration, academic performance, social skills and interest and curiosity in coursework. Making the grab ’n go baskets accessible to everyone helps eliminates the stigma of “that’s the kid who always needs food,” says Worthington. “Anyone, staff included, can stop by for a banana or Nutri-Grain Bar.”
Atkinson says that the Breakfast Club also gives kids of all ages (Wabamun is a K-9 school) a place to interact with one another before the first class. Parent volunteer Lindsay Hall has been helping with the program since Day 1. “I’ve seen a lot of positive changes in the kids,” she says. “They have a stronger sense of comradery.
The Breakfast Club not only provides for the students and staff of Wabamun School, but for anyone who would like to stop by for breakfast. In addition, several times a year residents of Wabamun are invited to eat pancakes together at special community gatherings.
“At the breakfasts you get to see that Wabamun is full of young families and not just a retirement community,” says LaVerne MacDonald, a resident of the Parkview Manor retirement community, who also sings with the St. Saviour’s worship band.
St. Saviour’s used Reach Campaign proceeds to purchase a grill for the school kitchen and sponsor one of the breakfasts, says rector the Rev. Coleen Lynch. Several members of the parish, including Coleen and her husband the Rev. Mike Lynch, braved winter driving conditions – also in their pajamas – to scramble eggs, chop fruit and serve around 200 people at the community breakfast last Friday.
Since its formation through the Edmonton diocese’s Rural Ministry Initiative (RMI) four years ago, the parish of St. Saviour’s Mission has been a visible presence in the Village of Wabamun. The parish holds regular Sunday worship in the Wabamun Seniors’ Centre, where members also help out at the community thrift store. Team Jesus organizes an annual Highway Clean-up and volunteers for the Dragonfly Festival every spring and summer. Throughout the year, Rev. Coleen leads special services like Cowboy Church, Benedict’s Breakfast and a Pentecost Pie Party.
St. Saviour’s is currently offering the 7th edition of “Come and Ask” - a drop-in Bible study held Monday afternoons until March 26 - in the parish’s Main Street Marketplace office. People are encouraged to bring their questions about God, church, religion and life in general.
“Everyone is so accepting of each other and our questions. It’s been awesome,” says St. Saviour’s Treasurer Wendy Wiles. In addition to supporting community initiatives like the Wabamun School Breakfast Club, proceeds from the Reach Campaign have helped the parish purchase study resources for “Come and Ask.”
“We now have 10 regular members, and with two United Church people and possibly someone from the Alliance Church, we could be up to 10 at our next gathering,” says Coleen.