Hungry students a growing problem in local schools

When Jessica Duncan was an on-call teacher at impoverished schools in Scotland, she noticed a troubling trend.

When Jessica Duncan was an on-call teacher at impoverished schools in Scotland, she noticed a troubling trend.

A number of children were going to school without breakfast or eating breakfasts that were high in sugar and fat, resulting in them having difficulty learning and exhibiting odd behaviour.

“Their behaviour was really out there. They’re not able to settle. You need good nutrition to be solid in yourself,” said Duncan. “You need good nutrition to get your brain in action.”

After moving back to Victoria in 2010 with her husband and children in order to help care for her father who has Parkinson’s disease, Duncan noticed many elementary to high school-aged students were not getting the proper nutritious breakfast needed to start the day off right.

That’s when Duncan, who has worked in the health food industry for years, decided to do something about it. Looking for ways to give back, she eventually heard about the From Breakfast to Beethoven program, which delivers breakfast to children while they learn about music.

The idea struck a chord with the musician and former teacher. As the owner of Singing Bowl Granola, a local company that produces organic local porridge and granola, Duncan decided to turn her efforts to help feed hungry children throughout School District 61 and last year, the Porridge Project was born.

Each month, schools with a need complete an order, which Duncan and two other employees fill at a commercial kitchen at the Harbour View Industrial Park on Bay Street. Duncan’s husband then delivers the organic cinnamon-raisin porridge to the schools, who distribute it to students.

So far, it’s been a hit. Last year, the project delivered close to 9,000 servings of porridge to more than a dozen schools. Duncan said it’s a need that’s expanding, with roughly a dozen schools who place orders for anywhere from 20 to 200 servings every month.

This month, she’s making deliveries to South Park School and Quadra Elementary School, as well as Glanford Middle School in the Saanich, among others.

“One of my big concerns as a teacher was every morning at 8:30, you’ve got 30 kids in front of you totally cranked up on sugar and chemicals. To be able to offer organic oatmeal, it’s just great,” Duncan said. “(A healthy meal) is the best way they’re going to learn. It’s getting worse here. We’re in Victoria, one of the richest cities around and there’s so much poverty, so many kids are coming to school hungry.”

For more information about the Singing Bowl Granola Porridge Project email singingbowlgranola@gmail.com.