Remote West Australian regions benefit from school breakfast program

Breakfast is widely recognised by dietitians and health professionals as the most significant meal of the day. It optimises nutritional intake, so children who miss it suffer from lower levels of nutrients during the day – which can lead to increased hunger along with higher levels of hyperactivity and less capacity to concentrate and learn.

For this reason, school breakfast programs are extremely important, and Foodbank WA operates the largest one of its kind in Australia –

having commenced it in 2001 after being approached by the principal of a local school which had 15 per cent of students showing up without having had breakfast.

By the end of 2001, 17 schools were involved in the program and last year the number had grown to 432. While 178 of these are in the Perth metropolitan area, the remaining 254 are spread right across Western Australia – from the tip of the Kimberley to along the border of South Australia/Northern Territory and everywhere in between.

Over 17,000 students are directly supported by the program each week, with over 55,600 breakfasts served every week along with 22,800 ‘emergency meals’ (recess and lunch) per week.

“Any school in WA experiencing a need is welcome to apply for the program, which is sponsored by the WA State Government Departments of Education, Health and Royalties for Regions, as well as the Channel 7 Telethon Trust and BHP Billiton Iron ore for the East Pilbara region,” explains Program Coordinator Miranda Chester, who says automatic eligibility is extended to disadvantaged schools as determined by a Commonwealth ranking system, with other schools accepted based on a letter from the principal highlighting a demonstrated need for the program.

Once the application is accepted (and Miranda says that during her time working on the program since 2008, none has been rejected) “we make available seven core products which are supplied free of charge.”

These are canned fruit in natural juice, wheat biscuits, oats, vegemite, canned spaghetti, baked beans and reduced fat UHT milk – all of which comply with the WA Department of Education’s Healthy Food and Drink Policy.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, milk and yoghurt are also supplied to metro schools, but as Miranda explains, logistical and transport problems caused by geographical isolation make it difficult to get these to schools in remote areas.

“The cost of chilled transport can be prohibitive and sometimes we can’t ensure the consistency of the cold chain to outlying areas. To ameliorate the issue, we supply remote schools with 100 per cent UHT orange juice – we recognise it’s not an equal to fresh fruit but it does does help in supplying vitamin C, which also helps with iron absorption. In remote areas anemia and iron deficiency can be a big problem due to lack of fresh fruit and veg, so while we’re unable to meet that need we do strive to find alternatives.”

Local supplier and program sponsor Harvey Fresh has undertaken to donate nearly $60,000 worth of UHT orange juice which Miranda says is “enough to supply every remote school with 60 litres of juice per term. Without their support we’d be unable to do it – we don’t have it in our budget.”

Her statement underscores the importance of the partnerships Foodbank WA has built up with suppliers in keeping the program running. “We have government partners, non-profit partners and all sorts of support networks that we utilise – the more people we can work with, the happier we are,” Miranda points out. “We would be lost without our partners.”