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Demand free school breakfast and lunch

Advocacy groups, teachers' unions and food banks are calling on the Ontario government to provide a free breakfast and lunch program in schools across the province.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Children's Minister Michael Parsa, the collection of organizations said many children in Ontario face food insecurity that forces them to rely on food banks for their nutritional needs.

The groups, including the Toronto Youth Cabinet, Food Banks Canada and the province's four major teachers' unions, said current student nutrition programs in Ontario are experiencing increased demand but are not meeting the needs of students.

The organizations said Ontario should provide a universal free school breakfast and lunch program for all students and ensure that schools have sufficient infrastructure, resources and funding to deliver the meals.

Stephen Mensah, executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, the city's official youth advisory body, said the benefits of providing universal school meals to students include increasing their school performance, reducing absenteeism and promoting good health.

"No child should go to school hungry," Mensah told a news conference Wednesday.

"A child's right to food is not a luxury to be experienced by a few, but a necessity that everyone deserves."

Henry Chiu, director of development and marketing at North York Harvest Food Bank in Toronto, said an unprecedented number of people have relied on food banks in recent months, including many families with children.

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