Across the street from Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, a free meal awaits students.
The Church of the Apostles operates a breakfast program on behalf of the high school, part of the congregation's efforts to address food insecurity in the community.
Starting in 1998, the program operates in the parish hall of the church every weekday morning from 7:45 until 9 a.m., providing students with yogurt, muffins, bagels, eggs, fruits, vegetables and other breakfast items.
Before the pandemic, the number of students who accessed the program ranged from about 50 to 200 a week. Now that students have returned to the classroom, Rev. Naomi Miller from The Church of the Apostles said they are also waiting for students to come back.
"We want the word to get out that we're ready," said Miller, noting no students have access to the program this week.
Grace and Mark Evans have been volunteering with the program since it opened 24 years ago. Grace said they call it ‘The Breakfast Club’ because all students are welcome.
“It became a neat gathering place meeting all kinds of needs,” said Grace, noting the space has been used by the student council and the rugby team.
Besides clubs and sports teams, Mark said a lot of international students also have breakfast at the breakfast club.
“We had a pair (of exchange students) from Italy who didn’t want to go home because they lived on opposite ends of Italy, who would have never met, but they met here,” said Mark, who attended GCVI for three years.
For some students, Grace said the breakfast club provides food that may not always be available at home. Grace recalls a conversation with a former GCVI student who accessed the program, which helped them prepare for the day.
“He’s in university now and he said he never knew if there would be food at home because his mother was on assistance, and so sometimes they didn’t, but he knew there was food here, so it motivated him to get up," said Grace.
The program can also have lasting impacts on a student, which is the case for GCVI alumni and breakfast club volunteer, Amanda Hoffman. She said there is no judgment at the breakfast club and everyone is welcome.
"It truly speaks to my heart," said Hoffman about the program. "I grew up in a not very good home, so breakfast club for me was a safe space for me where I could have calmness, and having guidance and understanding that not everyone's lives look like this, so it gave me the motivation to try and give back and to understand that just because that's the house I knew, that that's not how everyone else's lives are."
The program is made possible by funding from the Children’s Foundation of Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin and the Canada Nutrition Program. In the past, Loblaws and the Egg Marketing Board have also supported the program.
Out of 30 local breakfast programs run by the Children's Foundation, Mark said the GCVI breakfast program is the only program in the area that is not in a school.
"So that was hard for them too (the pandemic) because I don't know if they managed during that time. Here we provided bag lunches," said Mark.
Grace explains the current funding is adequate for the needs of the program, but said they are noticing more people lining up for the Food Bank and don't know how it will impact the students at GCVI.
"We know more people are experiencing food insecurity, and once students realize this is where they can get food, we're wondering what our numbers would look like," said Grace.
Miller said fitting needs and capacity for food takes work and effort, but the church is in a good location and has amazing volunteers.
“It’s a gift that those sets of resources have come together in a way to allow this to happen, because the church couldn't do it without those financial resources, but the Children's Foundation can't do it without people to turn those resources into meals,” said Miller.
“Guelph is a community that wants to take care of one another and the breakfast club was a really clear way where you could look at the breakfast club and say, ‘That is doing something significant and I want to be a part of it.'"