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So, this happened at Albert and Gore (5 photos)

Mike Da Prat is challenging Algoma steel executives and other employers and unions to support breakfast programs at every school in the district

Does every school in Algoma really need a breakfast program?

Even those in more affluent areas of the district?

United Steelworkers Local 2251 thinks so, and its members are putting their money where their mouth is.

"We're going to continue as long as we can afford it," said Mike Da Prat, Local 2251 president, as he handed over $15,000 in cheques this month to school board representatives at the local's offices at Albert and Gore.

"Since 2015, this will make $62,250 that we've donated to the breakfast program," Da Prat said.

And $391,000 that Local 2251 has quietly contributed to community causes over the past decade.

The union had a history of supporting a breakfast program just up Albert Street at Etienne Brule Public School.

But after 2014, that building was no longer used as an elementary school.

Then came the 2015 USW District 6 Conference, which brought hundreds of Steelworkers to Sault Ste. Marie from across Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

There was a discussion there about broadening the union's support of breakfast programs to include a handful of area child care support and early learning hubs.

"We said wait a minute. What happens to kids who aren't in the hubs? It's not their fault," Da Prat tells SooToday.

Local 2251 decided to make significant donations to breakfast programs at every public and separate school from Michipicoten to Espanola and Massey, adding to support from others including Rotarians, insurance brokers, Sault civic centre employees and Algoma Family Services.

"An important aspect for our members is the fact that there is no stigma, because everybody's included," Da Prat told us.

"Kids cannot learn unless they feel good about themselves and they have food in their stomachs," says Maria Esposito, superintendent of education at Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board.

Esposito said some local Catholic schools have known poverty problems, where principals have trouble keeping enough food in the fridge to feed hungry students.

On the other hand, there are schools higher on the socioeconomic scale where hunger still persists.

"It's often in the schools that you don't expect," said Marcy Bell from Algoma District School Board. "It's kind of under the radar. It may need more support because we're just not seeing it."

Esposito recalls a recent visit to one school on pizza day.

"A couple of the children were so devastated. They were crying that Grandma forgot to give them the money for their pizza."

Esposito told SooToday that kids aren't always hungry when they get up in the morning.

But after a long bus ride, they can feel differently when they arrive at school.

Esposito directs her principals to use school breakfasts as an opportunity to improve social skills.

"They interact with each other. We're creating a more inclusive society. There's no stigma attached because everybody's there."

Da Prat feels strongly enough about school breakfast programs that he's challenging Algoma steel executives and other unions and employers to contribute to the cause.

"Our members endorse it 100 per cent," Da Prat said. "They're the ones that said we don't want to leave anybody out."