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Reflection : Going the Distance to Ottawa!

By: Brent Mansfield, Elementary School Teacher (K-7), Lord Roberts Elementary School, Vancouver, B.C.

Photo caption: Immaculata High School track team from Ottawa ran some laps with Brent

On Thursday, November 30, I ran 200 laps, almost 30km, around the lawn in front of Parliament to once again ask the Government of Canada to honour its commitment to invest $200 million per year in school food. Students from the Immaculata High School Cross Country team and supporters, including Heather Norris, President and CEO of the Ottawa Network for Education, joined me for laps. This run in the nation’s capital follows after I ran 200 laps, over 92km, around my elementary school in Vancouver with my students joining me at the end of October. Both runs draw attention to the Government of Canada’s unfulfilled promise to invest $200 million per year for five years to establish a national school food program.

Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Jenna Sudds were invited to participate in the run and receive letters from students from across Canada. I received a response from the Prime Minister’s Office that the Prime Minister received and appreciated my invitation, but was unavailable. Minister Sudds had agreed to participate, and messaged me the evening before that she was going to bring her running gear and join me for a few laps. Unfortunately, due to illness, she was unable to attend, but sincerely thanked me for all that I am doing and said she shared my passion to see this happen. We have been in contact since and I look forward to connecting in the coming weeks.

Several Members of Parliament came out to speak with me, including Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway), Darren Fisher (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour), Lisa Hepfner (Hamilton Mountain), Irek Kusmierczyk (Windsor—Tecumseh), Taleeb Noormohamed (Vancouver Granville), and Adam van Koeverden (Milton). I really appreciate that all of them took the time to attend to show their support. I want to say a big thank you to Adam van Koeverden, who not only spontaneously jumped in to join me for a few laps on the Parliament lawn, but also made the time the next morning to go for a beautiful run along the Ottawa River and a coffee the next morning to talk more.

I was able to deliver about 1000 letters written to the Prime Minister by my students and others from across Canada. Letters are still coming in from across the country, which will be delivered to the Prime Minister via Minister Sudds who has kindly agreed to pass them on to Prime Minister Trudeau in the coming weeks. I’d like to send a huge thank you to all the students who wrote letters, as well as the teachers that supported them. In lieu of Minister Sudds, MP and Parliamentary-Secretary Lisa Hepfner was the Government representative that received the letters written to the Prime Minister to pass along to him.

It was inspiring to see the number of passionate students explaining in their own words why we need a national school food program. A few quotes from the thousands of letters we received include ‘School food programs are important because’:

“Healthy food helps us learn, concentrate and stay focused”
“They help us grow strong and healthy”
“It means less illness later in life”...“healthy children will save money for hospitals”
“I don’t like seeing my friends hungry”
“Students are the future, and good food helps students learn better”

Photo caption (from left to right): Stephanie Craze (ONFE), Carolyn Webb (CHSF), Heidi Yetman (CTF-FCE), Brenda Moore (The Food Sharing Project, Abhijit Potdar (Nutrition Blocs), Brent Mansfield (CHSF), Heather Norris (ONFE), and Dr. Amberley Ruetz (University of Saskatchewan).

I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to acknowledge the amazing team that mobilized over the past month to make this campaign possible. Thank you to Carolyn Webb, Sarah Keyes, and Ken Bejer from the Coalition for Healthy School Food. Debbie wasn’t able to be there in person, but was always supportive from a distance. Thank you to Heather Norris, Stephanie Craze and Tracy Noble-Botting from the Ottawa Network for Education. Thank you to Amberley T. Ruetz, PhD for being there and sharing research from her recently released report on the broad economic impacts of investing in a national school food program. As a teacher I was also very honoured and felt supported to have Heidi Yetman, President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, present and talking to the media. It was also great to have Jayden Paquet Noiseux, Host of the Young Canadians’ Parliament and Chair of the Youth Advisory Council of Children First Canada, there to share about the importance of school food from his perspective.

It was a real honour and privilege to be able to take the time to go to Ottawa, to run 200 laps at Parliament, to deliver the letters written by students from across Canada. I feel encouraged by the level of engagement and support for investing in school food from the politicians I met. With a little over 3 months until we expect to see Budget 2024, we need the Federal government to step up to the plate. The promised $200 million investment is an essential next step at this critical time. Now is the time to invest in school food. With a legacy of improved public health, educational outcomes and support for local food economies, we can’t afford not to do this.

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