They're known as "The Buffalo Bakers."

This group of five women who live in Altona's Buffalo Apartments was approached by staff at Ecole Elmwood School with a request to inject some homemade freshness into the school's breakfast program.

Robin Martens, a Grade 3 teacher and Vice Principal at the school, says the five-day-a-week meal program offers students a nutritious start to their day.

"We try to have a varied menu so that each day there's something new for them to eat. The kids can come in before school starts, anywhere between 8:30 and 9:00. The program is open to anyone."

The partnership began with the intention of offering students some fresh baking.

"So that we weren't buying packaged and processed food to give to them," said Martens. "We came up with the idea of approaching a group of ladies from the Buffalo Apartments, our back door neighbors. We call this group of ladies our Buffalo Bakers. They provide us with fresh baking. We then serve that baking usually once or twice a week to the kids and it's always a favorite."

On average, about 15 to 20 kids take advantage of the program, said Martens.

"They're eating a variety of things, from fresh fruits to yogurt, some homemade muffins, cereal, milk, juice boxes. Some kids are coming because they're hungry. Some kids are coming because it's a place for them to sit and visit and kind of get themselves set before the day starts."

Michelle Gerbrandt, a resource teacher at Elmwood, says they launched the program after hearing students say they were hungry in the morning.

"Some come [to school] without snacks. This way, they're starting their day off right, having a good nutritional breakfast before they go learn."

The program also helps Gerbrandt connect with more of the students.

"There are some kids that come in for the breakfast program and now they know my name, right? I wouldn't have had that relationship with them otherwise. I like the fact that I can connect with everyone in the school if they come in and eat."

Having 20 kids around the breakfast table also promotes connections between students of all grade levels, added Gerbrandt.


The Buffalo Bakers, including Anne Friesen (far left)The Buffalo Bakers, including Anne Friesen (far left)

One of the bakers is Ann Friesen, Martens' mother. 

"There's a group of us that get together when we’re baking. That same day we're planning for the following week. We try to get nutritious muffins going. I have to say I’ve got a good group of ladies that are doing this."

One of the bakers specializes in cinnamon buns. 

Friesen says they have a lot of fun discussing what they should make for their young neighbours.

"What would be healthy and what would the kids like? We try different things and if it doesn't go over well, we try one of the favorites. They always have one favorite for sure, which is the Monster Energy one. Muffins include the spiced oatmeal muffin - they love that one. Those are one of the ones we usually have. And we always put either chocolate chips or bananas in there. 

Homemade granola bars are also a big hit with the kids.

"The ladies find, we sit there, we get to talk to each other and cook," noted Friesen. "We often have others coming in and seeing what we're doing. We have a commercial kitchen in Buffalo so that's what we use. Usually, it goes over pretty good."

Martens says the most popular day of the program is Grilled Cheese Day.

"My mom prepares the grilled cheese sandwiches ahead of time at the Buffalo Apartments. She brings those in, and she comes and volunteers her time. We serve grilled cheese, oranges and milk. That's usually our highest attendance day. It’s their favorite. Those that are a little anxious about starting the day, it's a nice soft start for them to come sit, visit, just have a few bites to eat and sometimes they just have just a few bites. But it's more about them coming in and feeling comfortable to get their day started."

Many students perk up their ears when they find out that one of the bakers is Martens' mother.

"They say, 'that's your mom?' A neat connection there. Originally when we started the program, our hopes were to get more of the residents of the Buffalo [Apartments] coming in and helping out with the serving of food and such. But we haven't quite got to that point yet. Because they're so close it's nice to be able to make some connections."

For those interested in donating food to the program, you're asked to contact the school office for a list of current needs.


With files from Candace Derksen