School food program raises $32,000

Niagara resident and celebrity chef Anna Olson hosts NNP’s breakfast gala at Amici’s last Thursday morning. VOICE PHOTO

E. L. Crossley student honoured with award


Niagara Nutrition Partners (NNP) held its eighth breakfast gala last Thursday morning at Amici’s Banquet and Conference Centre, raising $32,000 in a fundraiser for the organization on a day that doubled as a competition for high-school chefs. Some half-dozen Niagara high schools sent teams of student chefs with their breakfast creations.

NNP—which marks its 20th anniversary this year—is a regional organization that runs breakfast programs in some 2000 schools, feeding upwards of 17,000 kids daily. The breakfast gala is the main fundraiser operated by NNP, though the annual Sobeys golf tournament spearheaded by Fonthill Sobeys owner Ron Kore also raises a substantial amount.

“We are only fifteen percent funded by the province,” said NNC’s Jessica Stevenson. “That’s why this, our signature event, is so important.”

Stevenson said that the event is sold out every year, with some 240 attendees present last week.

She emphasized the importance of encouraging students to think about healthy food and where that food is coming from, something that NNP tries to do by partnering with local growers.

“In urban areas, like Toronto, they will have rooftop gardens and other things like that to have fresh produce close by. But in Niagara we have so many farms around,” she said.

The gala’s host, chef Anna Olson—who hosts Baking with Anna Olson on the Food Network—similarly spoke of building relationships with food.

“In France, they treat cafeteria lunches as if they’re another class,” she said, before moving on to describe the difference between knowledge of food and wisdom.

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit,” said Olson, before waiting a beat. “But wisdom is knowing that you don’t put tomato in a fruit salad.”

She turned toward some of the schools’ tables, where they were preparing to serve their breakfasts.

“Unless one of the teams brought fruit salad with tomato in it,” she said hurriedly as the room laughed.

NNP’s Jessica Stevenson announced an award for E.L. Crossley Secondary School Grade 11 student and Pelham resident Tessa Piccolo, who started the breakfast program at her school when she was in Grade 10.

“During the summer after her Grade 9 year, she did the research and contacted the school’s principal,” said Stevenson. “She had to overcome difficulties too—Miss Keller, the teacher at the school who helped Tessa start the program, really believed in her, just like she believed in sustainable living, and healthy eating. She knew that students could use the breakfast program when they had an early bus, or because they liked the healthy options. Or because of need, because Miss Keller knew that poverty doesn’t have a neighbourhood. Miss Keller passed away unexpectedly last fall, but Tessa has continued on the good work she has done.”

Stevenson listed all of Piccolo’s extra-curricular involvements, including Interact, eco-club, VegFest, and student council.

“If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, you should make one,” said Stevenson as Piccolo accepted her award. “You’d have a lot of job offers by the time you leave this room.”

“I realized that we were one of the only schools without a program,” Piccolo told the Voice, explaining what galvanized her to start the program.

“Just because Pelham is known as a wealthier area doesn’t meant that there aren’t people who struggle to eat every morning. I also wanted it to be for athletes, or people who are on the bus for a long time before they get to school.”

Piccolo said that during the summer when she came up with the idea she read an article about the effect that eating breakfast has upon the rest of the day.

“I don’t think that anyone should be put at a disadvantage in school just because they didn’t have a healthy breakfast in the morning,” she said.

After the presentation to Piccolo, servers began delivering dishes from each school to the judges. The offerings ranged from a twist on Eggs Florentine, to plantain waffles, and bread pudding with maple ice cream.

All the judges worked through each dish as it was brought in front of them. Their decision, announced by Olson, awarded the crew from St. Catharines Collegiate Secondary School first place for their spinach strata with gruyere. Collegiate also won the people’s choice award, as voted on by attendees at each table.

Attendees lined up around the room to take their selection. Seated at Piccolo’s table were a handful of teachers from E.L. Crossley. Technology teacher Dave Csikos said that the plantain waffle was his favourite, while co-op teacher Andrew Petryschuk confessed to being too provincial to properly enjoy the gourmet fare.

“It’s all a little exotic for me,” said Petryschuk, pining for diner grub. “My palate isn’t used to that. I’m more of a bacon and eggs guy.”

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