As Chaplain of the Mount Magnet District High School in a remote pastoral and mining region of Western Australia, Good Samaritan Oblate Cathy Jones is on deck to help out as the students arrive before school to fill up at the Foodbank School Breakfast Program.
By Debra Vermeer
The program is run by Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation. Foodbank provides more than 70 per cent of the food rescued for food relief organisations nation-wide.
Cathy said the K-12 school of about 100 students had been part of the school breakfast program for some years and had recorded good results in terms of student focus and well-being throughout the day.
“The school has mostly Indigenous students and many of the families need the support of breakfast being provided for the children,” she said.
“Foodbank provides most of the food that we offer, such as tinned baked beans and spaghetti, oats, milk, juice, and Vegemite, but not the bread.
“We are 342 kilometres from Geraldton where the nearest Foodbank is based, so providing fresh bread every day would be a challenge.”
For some years the bread for the breakfast program was provided by an anonymous donor and then Geraldton Rotary Club.
Now, thanks to a request by Cathy, the Good Samaritan Foundation is funding the purchase of bread from the local supermarket.
“We’re given discounted bread prices from the supermarket, but we still spend $70 a week on it,” she said.
“We had been buying a white loaf from a bakery in Perth, through our supermarket, but the local doctor said the children were lacking in iron, so now we’ve found a wholemeal bread with the highest level of iron in it and we’re buying 20 loaves a week.
“The funding from the Good Samaritan Foundation is a big help because it means the school is not having to use its own finances on bread.”
Cathy said the program was important in building community and has had a positive effect on the day-to-day lives of the students, giving them more energy and focus, and helping boost attendance.
“Some kids are very hungry when they come into the program, so it helps them focus better when they start the day with a good meal. It’s hard to learn when you are hungry,” she said.
“It’s also a social time for them to meet up before school and enjoy breakfast together before getting into the day.”
Foodbank works with 2625 frontline charities and 2890 school breakfast programs to provide more than 87.9 million meals every year to those who could use a hand.
“In the past 12 months, 2 million households went hungry at some point,” the Foodbank website says. “On top of this, 1.3 million children lived in severely food insecure households. In fact, households with children are 1.5 times more likely to be severely food insecure than the national average.
Foodbank’s national and state-based teams work with the entire food and grocery industry including farmers, wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers to source food and capture donations. It also collaborates with suppliers, manufacturers and transporters to produce key staple foods that don’t come in sufficient quantities via rescue channels.
To distribute the food, Foodbank’s state teams work with an army of volunteers to pick, pack and get the food to where it’s needed.
Cathy said she was joined in the running of the program in Mt Magnet by the school’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer. The program is one of a number of nutrition-based activities at the school.
The school has also partnered with the EON Foundation under its Thriving Communities Program to make a vegetable and fruit garden for the students to work in, to feed the students, and to teach them how to cook and make a meal using garden produce.
“We’ve cooked things like stir-fries and quiches. It’s giving them those skills to carry over outside of school,” she said.
Cathy said the support the school had received was gratifying. “It’s amazing really, the support we’ve received in getting bread for the school, first from the donor, then the Rotary Club, and now the Good Samaritan Foundation. It’s only a small program, but it’s really important to our students and their families.”
Cathy works part-time as Pastoral Leader of Mt Magnet Parish of the Diocese of Geraldton, encompassing Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekathara, and part-time in her school Chaplain role.
She was commissioned by Geraldton Bishop Michael Morrissey to take on the parish role following the departure of the long-serving Good Samaritan Sister Gerri Boylan in 2021.
“I enjoy both jobs,” Cathy said. “I love the work I’m doing for the parish and on the days that I’m being Chaplain at the school, I also enjoy that. I like hanging out with the kids and playing games with them, and being there to listen to them. The breakfast program is a big part of all that.”