Lined up along the counter, each sandwich is being topped with lettuce and a handful of sprouts that were picked just a minute ago from the nearby tower garden. Add some meat, a slice of cheese and they're packed in a reusable plastic container, ready for students who will need something to eat later in the day.
Each morning before the bell rings, a group of volunteer staff and students prepare 15 sandwiches in the Nutrition Hub at Marion M. Graham Collegiate. Combined with fruit, juice and granola bars, the result of the morning prep session is a couple dozen students will have something to eat.
"We do have a population of students who, for a variety of reasons, are going hungry each day," said Principal Karen Peterson. "We associated that hunger with students who aren't benefiting in the classroom or aren't able to get that academic excellence piece that we are looking for — hungry kids can't learn very well.
"We want to provide students with the opportunity to enjoy a nutritious lunch or snack without feeling singled out or stigmatized."
The Nutrition Hub initiative was sparked by the collegiate receiving a $10,000 award as part of the Mosaic Extreme School Makeover Challenge, sponsored by The Mosaic Company and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association.
The school was able to renovate an underused space just off the front foyer into a student-friendly area for growing, preparing, storing, and distributing nutritional food. Funds from the grant, along with additional support from several businesses, resulted in the purchase of equipment including a dishwasher, refrigerator and tabletop convection oven. The tower garden that allows students to grow sprouts, lettuce and kale for the meals and snacks they prepare was donated by one of the school's families.
The sandwiches, fruit and juice are placed in the school's student services office each morning for any student to take. Sandwiches or other lunch items often disappear within minutes. The fruit and granola bars are there for those who may need something later in the day and there are never leftovers.
Teacher Doris Duke said something as small as a sandwich or a piece of fruit can make a big difference in the way students learn and are able to be engaged in their classes.
"Some of the teachers have noticed a difference, especially in the afternoons, because by then their (students') gas tank is low and they are crashing," she said. "It's providing a service that is unobtrusive and non-judgmental. I think kids are realizing that it's OK to come and grab that sandwich."
One goal of the Nutrition Hub is to encourage students to support others and the wider school community through volunteering for the prep session, and several students are joining staff members each morning. "It's fun, it helps other people and it helps me giving back," said Tim Deforest a Grade 10 student who volunteers twice a week.
Peterson said they are also encouraging a make-and-take approach for those students who are benefiting from the service and want to give back.
"You can come in and make, you can also take; but if you take, we want you to make. We want you to contribute to the community by knowing that working together we make a stronger, better place for Marion Graham," she said.
"We leave the door open and we try to invite people in. When we give the food, we try to invite them to come. We have our EAL students beginning to get involved by taking food-safe training and wanting to help us think about their own cultural foods that they might regularly eat and we could make."
In the collegiate's application for the Mosaic grant it stated that it was spending approximately $300 per month to support student nutrition, but that was only when students asked for help. Cost of the new program is about $100 per week, with the grant covering those costs for now. Peterson said the goal is to make the program self-sustaining over the long term so the school is working to develop partnerships to support its efforts.
The combination of the Mosaic grant and the new Nutrition Hub has kickstarted a conversation about the role nutrition and healthy food plays in the lives of students. Peterson said parents have approached the school with food production ideas such as outdoor garden boxes and fruit trees. She expects good conversations as they look for opportunities for the wider school community to be involved.
"We want the school community own it, but we haven't decided what that looks like yet," she said. "It's a wonderful space to continue to build school culture and climate — everybody is getting on board."