ESTEVAN - For many years, the Hillcrest School Breakfast Club has been bringing students of all ages together by providing nutritious meals and a great start to a day.
The pandemic reshaped the beloved community program, but at the end of this month, after two years of changes and challenges, the school is bringing breakfasts back.
"For the past two years, during the pandemic, we still had breakfasts delivered to students in individual classrooms. That's the way we did it so that we could still do breakfasts and keep everybody separated and safe at the same time," said Sara Pippus, Hillcrest School's community liaison. "On April 27, we will go back to being able to have students gather all together in our breakfast room and host breakfast again like we had done in past years."
The school was happy to find a way to keep delivering breakfasts to students during the pandemic, but they are really looking forward to bringing the more traditional format back as it carries many more benefits for each student and for the school in general.
Pippus noted that the original breakfast club would bring older and younger students together, allowing them to get to know each other and learn many useful social skills. The breakfast club also allowed students to connect with volunteers and thus with the community. Teachers are also encouraged to come to breakfast, which brings the school together even more.
"The huge difference that we saw was just that lack of being able to be together and getting to know each other. When kids are in a space like that, they learn all sorts of social skills and learn manners and different things about nutrition. There's a whole learning piece there that happens when they're all together … when nutrition and getting along is the focus … And we find that with things, we have a reduction in bullying because our older kids know our younger kids and vice versa. And oftentimes the older kids are the ones who are helping the little ones get their breakfasts and sitting with them," Pippus explained.
Breakfasts were and will be open to everyone in the school. Not only does the program take some pressure off parents in the morning but being universal, it also cuts down on a lot of stigmas that might be attached to a need for some support.
This is the 11th year for the Hillcrest School Breakfast Club. Pippus said that throughout the entire time the community, grant providers and partners have been "incredible."
"I think they all definitely saw a need, especially during the pandemic times and even before that if anything, we had more support during the time that we were making alterations to our program. We've had a lot of people come and ask us if we need extra help or extra support for families," Pippus said. "We felt really supported throughout that whole time and even now as we start our program up again, I put out a call for volunteers again and within a week I had a full slate of volunteers.
“I'll have five or six volunteers easily for each day, which is fantastic and really, really makes a difference in what we can do in the breakfast room in terms of not only serving the food but having our kids have a chance to get to know people from their community. I think that's extremely valuable."
"A big thanks to the volunteers. A big thanks to everyone who supported us throughout the pandemic. And we just can't say enough how we feel so grateful to our community and grateful that this is something that we're still able to do at our school to help support our kids and family," Pippus said.
The breakfasts will look almost like they used to with just some minor changes made to improve food safety and enhance cleaning, as to Saskatchewan Health Authority requirements and advice.
Pippus underlined that the return of the in-person breakfast program is really important for the school.
"It's important for all of our kids to be able to get together and be together and see each other. I can't stress enough how much good it does in terms of helping kids get along well with each other. And just that whole connection piece that we missed for the last two years," Pippus said.
"It's refreshing for students who may not eat at home to come and eat together here with their siblings ... It's also encouraging to see older kids mixing with younger kids in a positive way,” said Pippus.
“And that community piece, just having people in the building, there's something that happens to kids, when they see their community coming out to support them. It forms a different layer of trust because then they see them in a grocery store later or uptown and they're like, 'I know you.' It causes some kind of confidence in our kids that I think is really important for their future and for their everyday life where they feel like they're surrounded by a really good community."