“When I’m hungry I can’t make my brain think about learning. It only thinks about food.”
With those words, a second grade student sums up why members of the Creston Valley Rotary Club and their spouses have volunteered to prepare breakfast for students at Erickson Elementary School for the past seven years.
The breakfast program actually began 14 years ago under the leadership of Marje Bridgman, then a school child care worker.
“We brought in a loaf of bread a couple of times a week to help feed kids who we knew came to school hungry,” Bridgman said.
The program really took off seven years later when she noticed an article in Canadian Living magazine.
“The story talked about a Breakfast for Learning program that provides funds for meals in schools,” Bridgman said last week. “To apply, we needed to show community support, so I asked my husband, Bill, if his Rotary club would help out.”
And, every school day morning since, Creston Valley Rotary Club members, spouses and supporters have been faithfully preparing and serving toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, eggs, pancakes, smoothies, fruit juice, fruit and milk.
“We have always tried to serve nutritious food that is easily prepared and that the children enjoy,” Bridgman added.
Rotarian Gordon Rodney has been volunteering since his club became involved in 2004.
“We enjoy the kids and the kids enjoy us — they are like replacements for our grandchildren who might not live here,” he said. “I love the energy the students bring into the room. … Any time there is fun involved in a project, it’s easy to keep it going.”
Rodney recalled a boy walking up to the serving counter one morning.
“I’ll have pancakes and eggs,” he announced.
“We’re serving toast this morning,” Rodney said. “Do you want some?”
“Yeah,” the disappointed youngster said, looking down at his feet.
Rodney buttered the toast, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, then handed the plate to the boy, who refused to look up. The student took the plate, lowered it into his line of vision, then handed it back to Rodney.
“You missed a spot,” he said.
Rodney also laughs as he recalls the time he mistook a jar of iced tea mix for cinnamon and sugar. And another time when he ran a loaded dishwasher without taking the soap out of its plastic package. At the next Rotary club meeting he was presented with a similar soap package, mounted on a plaque.
Club member Dave Handy said he and his wife, Ruth, volunteer every Friday, which is pancake day.
“Some days it’s hard to get up, but we live nearby and walk over to the school,” he said. “When the kids start walking in it just makes our day.”
“The Rotarians and spouses are such great people,” said principal Nancy DeVuono. “In my experience, it is very unusual that a program run by volunteers just keeps going and going.”
Earlier this year, DeVuono nominated the Creston Valley Rotary Club for a BC Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association Partnership Award. Her nomination bid was successful and Rotary representatives were invited to attend an awards banquet in Vancouver in early May.
In her nomination, she wrote,” The Creston Valley Rotary Club provides two services to Creston area students to feed body and mind. At Erickson Elementary School the students are treated to a hot breakfast every day of the week…
“In the Erickson Breakfast Program, our Rotary volunteers prepare, serve and clean up; provide necessary equipment like blenders and griddles and start our students off with a heartfelt, ‘Have a great day!’ They have been supporting the Erickson Breakfast Program for more than seven years; in spite of inclement weather and busy personal schedules, they arrive without fail at 7:45 a.m. and have breakfast ready to go every single school day for our first bus students at 8 a.m. Their menu includes toast, grilled cheese, eggs, pancakes, smoothies, fruit, juice and milk — all served with a smile.”
The Erickson breakfast program is supported by funds from the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), Creston Valley Gleaners Society and other organizations and individuals, in addition to Breakfast for Learning. In fact, a parent, Michelle Christie, has taken over preparation of the Wednesday morning smoothies.
“Most of these volunteers are retired members of our community,” Devuono said. “They have established a special bond with our students. They know most of the students by name, ask them about their schoolwork and special interests and entertain them with riddles, brain teasers and stories — all in the time it takes to butter a piece of toast. One of our special needs students, in particular, looks forward eagerly to her ‘second breakfast’ and has learned to make eye contact and utilize her electronic communication device to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Thank you’. In a time when many of our children do not have a significant elder in their lives to make them feel important, the attention they receive from our Rotary volunteers is especially impactful.
“This Rotary group not only feeds the students’ bodies, they feed their minds as well. In addition to supporting our breakfast program, they have established a local program where all Grade 3 and Grade 5 students in the Creston area receive a personalized dictionary and thesaurus, respectively. In the flyleaf students can read the Rotary motto: The Four Way Test (of all the things we think, say or do): 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build good will and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
“As they present the books to each child, the volunteers explain the importance of reading and of living a life of integrity and service.”
“I always get a kick out of how different the boys and girls are,” Rodney said. “The girls are always so prim and proper and the boys are just boys — rambunctious and always on the go.”
“The breakfast program is a success, I think, because it is run by volunteers,” DeVuono said. “When volunteers show how committed they are, it makes it easier for other groups and individuals to make their own contributions.”