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Estevan Hillcrest School found a way to continue with its breakfast program despite cuts

On Sept. 12, despite challenges Hillcrest School started its latest year of providing hot daily breakfast to all students.
Hillcrest School breakafst program
Every morning Hillcrest School, with volunteers' help, provides hot breakfasts to 80-90 students.

ESTEVAN — The Hillcrest School breakfast program is continuing despite budget cuts the provincial educational sector has encountered.

On Sept. 12, the school started its latest year of providing hot daily breakfast to students. The program was developed by community education liaison Sara Pippus, but with recent changes in provincial funding and staff reductions from the South East Cornerstone Public School Division, her position was cut, and the breakfasts became at risk of wrapping up.

Principal Kristy Johnson said this year is transitional for them, but they hope they will be able to continue providing morning meals to their students this year and for years to come.

"We used to have our community education liaison. For many years Hillcrest School had that position with Sara Pippus at the helm. However, due to budget implications in the education sector and throughout South East Cornerstone Public School Division, some of the programs such as that community education liaison position were reduced throughout our school division," Johnson said.

"Last spring we had met with our school community council to determine if we thought that we would be able to manage taking it on. So, with the support of the school community council and some staff members here at the school along with 30 community volunteers, we decided to take it on and continue to serve a nutritious, all-together breakfast for all of our students who are interested in coming in the morning."

For more than a decade, Pippus developed a strong foundation for the program, so that the school was able to keep it going.

"It was extremely organized, well run. We can't thank her enough for all the work she did, because with a strong foundation that was established, we felt that we were able to continue on," Johnson said.

The SCC took over food ordering and organization, and the volunteers who joined the program over the years continued preparing and serving meals every morning.

Pippus started the program with a vision of a school-wide activity that would bring students of all ages as well as staff and community members together, allowing them to have a good time together, learning social skills, while also enjoying a hot nutritious meal. More than a decade later the program is in full bloom with about 80-90 students coming for a breakfast every morning.

Students from different grades would interact with community volunteers, share a table, have breakfast, spend quality time together and then clean up after themselves and head out for classes. Johnson said they never have any behaviour issues during their breakfasts and it's just amazing to watch students learn communication skills and turn into a real school community.

Besides, the inclusive program helps ensure that all kids receive a good meal to start the day. The meals are based on foods from the Canada Food Guide, so the school offers a selection of french toast, cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurt, cheese, turkey bait, milk and juice options. And then there is some flexibility as they add in different menu options from week to week.

"There's a wide range of food choices. And that breakfast is open to all students, so it's inclusive for all. It's a really great start to the day and it's free of charge. And it's a place for us to gather, for students to get to know each other, getting to know their community, they're able to fuel up for the day and that's a great way to start the day," Johnson said.

Staff members come and go and interact with students. And community members, including some former Hillcrest students, come in on different days, so kids get to meet more people.

"It really is a very social atmosphere, a relaxed atmosphere. It's just very much a community feel," Johnson added.

She also emphasized that they were able to keep going with the breakfast program thanks to all the work Pippus put in over the years, as well as the dedication of the SCC and volunteers, and financial support from the community.

"[We wouldn't be able to continue with the breakfast program] without the support of our school community council and the wonderful community volunteers, as well as partners such as the United Way Estevan, Vermillion Energy, and then we receive grants such as the Breakfast Clubs of Canada, and donations from different service groups, businesses, churches and private donors. So we and our families are extremely grateful for all of the community support, and just the community that's coming together to support this program," Johnson said.

"So just a huge, huge thank you to our SCC, the community volunteers who make this possible and to the community, in general, for the support and for financial support as well …  And it's really important to acknowledge Sara Pippus, the work that she has done over the last decade to get us to where we are because if that hadn't had been established prior, I don't think it would have been possible without that foundation."