Joni Cutler does some work in the kitchen to prepare for the upcoming breakfast school season. (Mark Brett/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

Joni Cutler does some work in the kitchen to prepare for the upcoming breakfast school season. (Mark Brett/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

Penticton’s school meal program in jeopardy

The program serves about 600 morning meals each week

By Mark Brett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A volunteer-driven program feeding hungry school kids their most important meal of the day is in jeopardy unless more volunteers step up to the plate.

“I don’t understand. The newspaper said Ironman had more volunteers than they knew what to do with and we can’t find enough,” said Joni Cutler, who manages three of the four schools served by the Penticton Breakfast Club.

“We’re gearing up for the upcoming year, we start Sept. 12 and are very short of volunteers to the point where we may not be able to operate every school day.”

At the four schools the program, which has been running for about eight years, serves a total of 600 morning meals each week.

At one school alone, Queens Park Elementary, that translates into 70 breakfasts daily.

“So even missing just one day at a school like that would be a terrible thing,” said Cutler. “We also realize there are other schools that need the program but we just can’t go any further because we don’t have the people for the schools we’ve got.

“The teachers and principals are very appreciative of what we do because it makes a difference in their day of having full kids, happy kids.”

In part to avoid the poverty stigma for those not having the benefit of home cooking, the free meal is available to all students.

“So for the kids that need it, this is very important and you can really tell the ones who need it, they’re the ones that come back for thirds,” said Cutler.

The manager is looking for people who can donate an hour-and-a -half a week or just be on standby to come in when called.

And you don’t have to be a chef, although they do have one who donates his time, executive chef Evan Robertson of Hillside Winery.

“No, it’s actually just simple, healthy things we do, scrambled eggs, pancakes, waffles and things like that,” said Cutler. “Anybody who can make a meal at home can certainly do this.

“It’s something different everyday, there’s lots of fruits and veggies and milk. We try to stay away from a lot of the sugar stuff kids would like to have, but when they get used to eating healthier they’re good with it.”

The Penticton Speedway Foundation has proven to be a godsend for the program, supporting their efforts in a big way each school year.

Other local businesses, including Canadian Tire, along with services clubs and the Breakfast Club of Canada also contribute to their efforts on a regular basis.

“This is just super rewarding for volunteers, you have fun with the kids, they get to know you and they open up,” said Cutler. “You’re out of there by nine o’clock and the rest of the day is your own and you’ve done something good for all those kids. It’s a great feeling.”

For more information or to help call Joni Cutler at: 259-490-7957 or email: joniandbill@telus.net.

READ MORE: Mounties in Penticton pedal through B.C.’s Interior for kids facing illness

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