The uncertain provincial economy has put the School Lunch Association in a pickle. They’re scrambling to make up an $80,000 reduction in revenue from their school lunch program.

The School Lunch Association serves lunches to over 12,000 elementary and primary students in 25 schools across the Eastern Avalon. The pay-what-you-can program is open to all students: parents can fill out a sheet each month to order the lunches and send it in with their kids in an envelope. If they can afford the suggested fee of $3.50 per lunch, that goes in the envelope too. If not, no problem.

Since nobody can see who isn’t able to pay and the program is available to everyone, the kids who really need it aren’t singled out says Ken Hopkins, the School Lunch Association’s Executive Director.

Though they don’t keep track of who pays what, they do keep track of what’s coming in overall. This year, they’ve seen an increase in families using the service, and a decline in the amount parents are paying for the lunches. “Parents are paying approximately ten cents less on average per meal this year than last year,” says Hopkins. “It is very substantial and a very noticed drop.”

Parents tend to pay more at the beginning of the school year. As Christmas gets closer, they pay less. Then it picks up again after January. But this year’s decline has been steady, right from September. It’s having an effect on the organization’s bottom line.

“We’ll serve about 800,000 meals this year,” Hopkins says. “That’s a $80,000 difference in what we receive this year compared to last year.”

He thinks the province’s economic uncertainty is to blame. “We were very aware of the environment out there. It’s not good, to put it mildly,” he says. “So we knew our meal revenue was probably going to be hit this year. We just didn’t know how much.”

He says though the situation puts extra financial pressure on the organization, it underscores the need for the program — a need that continues to surprise him. “I get asked do I think the need is still there like it was in the 1980s. I would say the need may be even more, but it’s much better hidden than it ever was.”

He says every time he visits a school, the school staff talk to him about how many kids need the program.  “There will be a comment like, did you know this teacher filled out three envelopes this month because the kids didn’t come in their class with them filled out, and they wouldn’t have had a lunch otherwise if she didn’t,” he says. “Every single day that’s going on. If you’re not involved with it, you may never know.”

ARTICLE CORRECTED: Original article stated there was an $8,000 deficit, the figure is actually $80,000.