Esther Kin is a little puzzled by the decisions made by city bureaucrats. Fifteen years ago, as a volunteer mom, she was able to secure municipal and provincial funding for a snack and meal program for the girls at Bais Yaakov Elementary School. The program, which now receives more than $50,000 a year in funding, proved so successful it grew over the years from providing small snacks to serving 800 students with nutritious lunches and healthy snacks.
For the last 10 years, however, she’s dutifully filled out the application forms on behalf of other Jewish day schools, offering to organize the moms into running the nutrition programs. The schools – Beth Jacob High School, Yeshiva Gedola, Yeshivas Nachalas Zvi and Bobov – have repeatedly been turned down.
Kin said hungry students can’t concentrate properly and a lack of food affects their behaviour. She has been in contact with Coun. James Pasternak, a member of the city’s budget committee, about the issue.
Pasternak told The CJN that Jewish schoolchildren aren’t the only community members being shortchanged by city staff. Residents of city-run long term care (LTC) facilities have also seen their request for kosher food go unheeded, he said.
Late last week, correspondence between The CJN and city spokespeople revealed that only public schools are now eligible to apply for nutrition funding. (It appears Bais Yaakov has been grandfathered.)
Toronto Public Health spokesperson Carol Timmings said in an email that the “municipal and provincial government funding for new student nutrition programs is allocated to publicly funded schools in the City of Toronto. Privately funded schools, including privately funded faith-based schools, do not qualify for this expansion funding.”
That response surprised Pasternak.
“We have no official policy to restrict nutrition programs to publicly funded schools. They seem to be making it up on the fly,” he said.
Pasternak said Toronto allocates $9.9 million to health programs. To restrict that to public schools defeats the purpose of the programs, which is to ensure all children have access to healthy foods and are taught about good nutrition.
“The problem is not the money, it’s the policy,” he said. “It will be my goal when the budget vote is taken [this] week and into February to make it clear that the health of all students is important, regardless of where they go to school.”
Regarding kosher meals at LTC facilities, Pasternak pointed to two compliance orders by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) instructing Cummer Lodge and Carefree Lodge to meet the dietary requests of their residents at no additional cost.
He said 42 Jewish Cummer Lodge residents have requested kosher food, as have a smaller number at Carefree Lodge.
COR, the Kashruth Council of Canada, has taken up the issue. For three years, it has lobbied the city to fund the kosher food needs of LTC residents.
Earlier this month, it filed a complaint with the city ombudsman, stating, “In multiple compliance orders, the Ministry of Health has noted that the city is in violation of [legislation], most notably with respect to Cummer Lodge and Carefree Lodge.”
Asked to comment, city spokesperson Jennifer Wing said, “The two compliance orders received by the City of Toronto’s long-term care homes over the past number of years that related to kosher meals were both quickly and fully addressed.”
She added the city gets $8.03 per day from the province to provide meals and snacks at LTC residences, while the daily cost of kosher meals is $23.
“The MOHLTC does not provide additional funding for ethnic, cultural or religious meal requirements for residents in long-term care homes,” she added.
In a separate response to a CJN question, John Gosgnach, communications manager for the City of Toronto, stated, “As none of the city’s long-term care homes have a kosher kitchen, we work in partnership with families and community agencies to facilitate kosher catered meals for residents.
“The additional cost is covered by families and community agencies.”
Responding to Gosgnach’s statement, Pasternak said he believes the city is providing “kosher-style” food, while COR said that to its knowledge, the compliance orders haven’t been implemented.
As to asking families and community agencies to cover the additional cost of kosher meals, the MOHLTC compliance order regarding Cummer Lodge, states that “kosher meals and other assessed dietary needs must be provided at no charge to the resident.”
Similar language was used in the Carefree Lodge compliance order.