A food program for rural First Nations communities in the territory will bring at least two nutritional meals five days a week to hundreds of Yukon children, says Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) executive director Shadelle Chambers.
The $4.4 million in funding to CYFN from the Jordan’s Principle funding program was announced Nov. 20. The funding will be in place until June 2020.
The funding will be used to purchase and deliver food as well as for the hiring of two coordinators to oversee the program.
“Food insecurity is a reality here in the Yukon,” Chambers said in a Nov. 20 interview, pointing to the high cost of goods and reduced availability of fresh food particularly in rural communities.
“Food insecurity is an urgent public health challenge in Canada that disproportionately affects First Nations peoples,” Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said in a statement.
“Canada is the only country in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without a national school food program.”
The program will provide youth in rural communities with two nutritional meals per day. How that happens will depend on each individual First Nation involved. Chambers said CYFN is working individually with each First Nation in the rural communities to determine logistics and how to best deliver it to that particular community.
“It’s not a pan-approach,” she said, adding the program will take a phased-in approach in the coming months.
In some cases, First Nations already have their own food programs in place and will be able to expand.
“In Ross River we have already implemented the hot meals program and, although it’s too early to say what effects it may have on our youth, we feel better knowing every child is guaranteed two balanced meals during the school week. We know this will have a positive effect on our community as a whole,” Ross River Dene Council Coun. Verna Nukon said in a written statement.
In communities where there is not currently a program, it will mean the start of a whole new initiative.
In some cases it may also mean hiring and training of staff to prepare the meals.
“The food we eat is linked to our culture, our identity and our overall health, so assisting communities to build food security while revitalizing traditional diets, is vitally important for Yukon First Nations. We also know that a healthy diet improves concentration and learning,” CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnson said in a statement.
“The potential benefits to this program are countless.”
Chambers said while the focus is on establishing the rural program now, it’s expected the next step will be an urban food program in Whitehorse.
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