Maple Ridge students, fed and content

Youth Unlimited group provides hearty breakfast for needy students

Breakfast volunteer Neil Thompson flips pancakes at Garibaldi secondary.

For teens, sleep is the priority – breakfast, not so much. Most have honed the skill of nailing a snooze button without opening even an eye, before they can cook an over-easy egg without breaking the yolk.

So, when volunteers with the group Youth Unlimited decided to cook breakfast at local high schools – hoping to provide for kids who don’t always have bacon and eggs in the fridge at home – they didn’t know what kinds of numbers to expect.

But on a Wednesday at the Garibaldi secondary cafeteria, there was a long line of teens by 8 a.m., forking sausages and pancakes onto a plate.

“It helps you wake up and think in the morning,” observed Grade 12 student A.J. Patchett. “Every school should do this.”

“It’s a good thing – sometimes people don’t get breakfast,” agreed Colton Koop, also in his grad year. “I eat breakfast, but I still get hungry later.”

“I love it, and a lot of kids in school don’t have breakfast,” said Shelby Scott. “The sausages are yummy.”

Dennis Hemminger is the area supervisor for Youth Unlimited, a faith-based youth organization that works with and for teens, often doing skateboard competitions, music cafes and other events. He volunteered at Westview secondary in a variety of capacities for 10 years. While there, he noticed that the counsellor would give some kids food on a daily basis – 12 to 15 students. The counsellor paid out of his own pocket, supported by other teachers who pitched in. It is well documented that hungry kids can’t fulfill their full potential at school – they’re thinking about food.

Hemminger wanted to help.

“The discussion was, ‘what if we do something a little more substantial,’” he said.

He got local churches behind the venture, providing both financing and volunteer labour, and for the last two years Westview students have been fed breakfast on Monday and Tuesday every week.

They work out of a foods classroom, and about 60 students get fed each day.

There is no stigma for kids whose family situation does not allow them to have breakfast at home. They blend in with their pancake-munching classmates.

“Our target is the kids who need it, but their friends join in,” said Hemminger.

This year, Hemminger and his group added a third breakfast – Wednesday’s at Garibaldi. He and a group of five volunteers from Maple Ridge Community Church served up breakfast Wednesday.

“I got laid off, and thought I would do something with my time,” explained Jeremiah Johnston, who was at the school at 7 a.m. to start Garibaldi’s pancake and sausage assembly line.

There they have access to the school cafeteria, and can turn out breakfast for 150 to 170 students. They cook 250 pancakes and 270 sausages, served with sides of fruit and a glass of apple juice.

Hemminger also hopes and believes that eating together helps break down social barriers at the school. There is something bonding about breaking bread with other people, he said.

“It creates community.”

Hemminger estimates the cost at $1 per student per day. At Garibaldi, he estimates the breakfasts will cost a total of $10,000 to $12,000 per year, and this cost will be born by the church. At Westview is will be another $6,000 to $7,000.

Hemminger would like to see the program brought to other schools in Maple Ridge, as funding and more church involvement allows.

“I believe there’s a need in every school.”

Suzanne Davies, a counsellor at Garibaldi secondary, appreciates the program.

“It’s a wonderful way to support our students,” she said. “They’re fed, content and ready for the day.”

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