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Let me begin by saying that I love children and actually I love adults and old people too. I also have a very keen interest in health and education. I view nutrition and exercise as critical for us to naturally stay healthy and well and thus have a good life. I value the sense of belonging and being cared for that true community can bring to a broad group of people and therefore I support efforts to develop or enhance community both large and small and try to create them as well.

fuzzy thinking


The reason for this preamble will be evident when I introduce the content of this piece. You see I will challenge the value and the sincerity of a “program” that on the surface appears to be all good and in fact seems fabulous.  The program is called “Breakfast for Learning” and as described in their website is:

“the leading, national non-profit organization solely dedicated to child nutrition programs in Canada. We help raise awareness and educate communities about the vital link between proper nutrition and learning through ongoing program support, training, child nutrition education, resources and research.

Working to ensure that students receive the highest standards in student nutrition programming, Breakfast for Learning is committed to our community-based model which calls upon all sectors – private, public and volunteer – to work together to provide nutritious meals and snacks in safe, welcoming child nutrition programs.”  www.breakfastforlearning.ca

According to the latest posted annual report (2009-2010) the charity organization reported a total income of $4,256558 ($4.25M). Of this income 62% ($2,623,876 ($2.6M)) went to charitable grants made to the 2368 school-based nutrition programs across Canada.  The remaining 38% went to non grant activities. A full 20% went into the administration budget with $584,828 going to management and the remaining $269,490 into fundraising. Another 18% ($778,364) went to research and program support. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year the programs served 267,077 children and says there is a least an equal number who would still benefit from the program. There are programs in schools in every province and territory of Canada.

Major supporters of the charity organization include: President’s Choice Children’s Charity; Canadian Living; Tanscontinental; Sobeys; bhbillitopn; Roche; Scotiabank, Manulife Financial etc. Major contributors include: Wal-Mart Canada, Shania Twain, Canadian Pacific Railway, Saputo, General Mills, S. C. Johnson & Son, Esso Imperial Oil, RBC Foundation, McCain, Vileda, Procter &Gamble, Fresh Taste Produce, CIBC World Markets, Cargill Ltd., Dial Canada, Dairyland Fluid Division, Lise Watier Cosmétiques, Henry White Kinnear Foundation, A&P, and Kraft.

Private donations are also solicited by pointing out that:“For as little as 85 cents a day you can provide a child with a nutritious meal; and a twenty-dollar donation will feed a student breakfast for a month”.

So far so good.

The organization states that “studies show that well-nourished students have improved memory, problem-solving skills and creative abilities – overall, they perform better in school. Yet, in Canada we have some startling facts:

One in ten children in Canada live below the poverty line and this is only one of the many reasons children go to school hungry each day;

31% of elementary school and 62% of secondary school students do not eat a healthy breakfast daily Childhood obesity rates, Type 2 diabetes and other health-related issues continue to rise; and still

Canada remains one of the few developed countries without a national nutrition program for children. With a challenging economy and rising food costs, child nutrition programs across the country face the daunting challenge of meeting the needs of their school community on already tight budgets.” (website)

The number one nutrition tip offered by the organization sounds great: “Try to eat at least one meal a day as a family. Families who eat together are more likely to eat healthier food; their children are less likely to experience behavioral problems and are more likely to grow into adults who have healthy eating practices “

So what is the problem with the Breakfast for Learning program?

The issue as I see it is that we are just treating the symptoms: child poverty, hunger, obesity, health issues, learning problems. We are not focusing on origin of these symptoms and actually we are completely ignoring the cause. When I step back and look at this I ask these questions:

If children are living below the poverty line doesn’t that mean their parents are also poor?

Are we not interested in helping parents who are too poor to be able to feed their children?

If it is important for families to eat together why are we not supporting them to do so?

What if the organizations (who contribute to this charity) were to pay their employees a living wage?

If these employees (who are also parents) earned a living wage would they be able to feed their children at home?

If the parents (who do not earn a living wage) did not have to work so many hours to earn a living maybe they would be able to have breakfast with their children at home?

What if corporate social responsibility was not just a matter of appearances and a public relations act?

What if corporate social responsibility included treating employees well and paying them a living wage?

What if corporations looked past the façade of corporate social responsibility and the bottom line?

Essentially I am trying to illustrate how ridiculous a situation we have here. Organizations (corporations) who employ people at a minimum wage which is not a living wage are stepping in (under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility) to rescue the children of their underpaid employees. For example, Loblaws the company that owns President’s Choice Children’s Charity and a key supporter of the Breakfast for Learning program pay their cashiers and clerks anywhere from $7.00/hour to a whopping $15.00/hour with an average hourly salary of about $11.00 (I am being generous and rounded up) (www.glassdoor.com) which is about $6.00/hour short of a living wage (based on the living wage paid to New Westminster employees, the only city in Canada to pass a living wage bylaw for municipal workers).

If individuals were paid the additional $6/hour and worked a 40 hour week they could see an additional $12,000 a year and this would take them (probably parents) just above the poverty line. Maybe then they could buy nutritious breakfast food and eat it with their children. President’s Choice Children’s Charity has pledged to increase their contribution to Breakfast for Learning to $7.5M next year. I suggest instead that they could increase the salaries of their employees.

My feelings are that we are being bamboozled by these corporations into thinking that they are charitable; that they care about children and that we too should contribute to their worthy cause. As individuals we think that contributions of $5M or $7.5M are major but to corporations with revenue surpassing $9Billion it is not so major especially given that their employee payment practices are part of the cause of the problem in the first place.

There is a lot more that I could say about the program that on the surface appears to be so “nice and charitable” but suffice to say that with an average grant of $1,000/program, they are just stirring the pot while trying to look good.

Just as the final kicker I found this zinger in the grant application documentation of the charity organization:

“BREAKFAST FOR LEARNING expects student nutrition programs to ask all parents for a financial contribution. When presenting an invitation to parents or students to make a financial contribution, it is important to do so in a way that does not exclude or stigmatize children. Your student nutrition program should be available to all children, regardless of ability to pay” (grant application document)

That was the “icing on the cake” and at the risk of using too many cute sayings, I think we are “barking up the wrong tree”!! In a rich country like Canada the rising and staggering child poverty rates are an embarrassment. By continuing to pretend we are concerned and are addressing the problems by creating “national non-profit organizations” funded by the very corporations who are creating the poverty with the ever widening gap in wealth is insane at best. I will certainly be doing my homework before I contribute to one of these corporation-owned non-profit charity organizations.

Irene McDermott © 2011