If Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore skipped breakfast Wednesday morning, a nutritious, balanced one was awaiting him when he returned to the union office.
Apple slices, fruit cups, yogurt and small cartons of one percent milk were among a variety of healthy options left for Rumore, who was out of the office at a Say Yes meeting when the breakfast was “served.”
So the group of students, parents and community leaders who gathered at the union’s Porter Avenue headquarters decided to leave a message along with the breakfast tray: Keep the free breakfast program going.
“We want them to eat healthy, too,” said Jessica Bauer Walker, referring to the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
Walker is chairwoman of the District Parent Coordinating Council’s Health Committee and executive director of the Community Health Worker Network. She participated in the event with at least 25 others on Wednesday in response to a grievance that was recently filed by the BTF against the district that threatens to put an end to the classroom breakfast program.
During the event, advocates of the program carried signs of support for the project and displayed samples of breakfast foods that kids can receive through the program.
The demonstrators said they just want the BTF to talk about the issue with the community.
“Let’s have a conversation. We can work this out,” said Walker, whose children attend Buffalo public schools.
It is unlikely the program would be eliminated, Rumore said later in the day in a telephone interview.
Filing a grievance was a way to get the district’s attention, the union president said. “This can be something that can be settled.”
For the last two years, nearly all Buffalo public school students through eighth grade have had free breakfast in their classrooms. Teachers got a free breakfast, too.
Since the district instituted the classroom breakfast program in 2010, more than 6,000 children have taken advantage of it, officials said.
But teachers were complaining about having ants, roaches and mice in the classroom that were attracted by leftover crumbs, Rumore said.
Plus, he added, there were logistical problems in delivering the food.
The key to a resolution lies in working with parents and teachers at each school and establishing a committee to oversee the program “so they can deal with the complaints,” Rumore said.
“What we’re seeking is not to end the breakfast program. We have no intention of doing away with the breakfast program. The ultimate objective is to have each school decide as to how we can make it work because each school is different,” he said.
Rumore also characterized the community event from earlier in the day as a “bunch of posturing.”
“This marching up and down Porter Avenue is just for publicity. Let’s face it,” he said.
Still, if milk spills, crumbs and pests are the problem, the young people who participated in Wednesday’s event said, they were willing to take on additional responsibility to help alleviate the problems.
“Yeah, I would do that,” said 15-year-old Carnell M. Gwynn Jr., who will be a junior at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, who presented a tray of food to a BTF worker.
The food items represented some selections available under the breakfast program and were to be shared with everyone in the office.
Carnell said he wants Rumore and the union to better understand the benefits of the program for children like him. The free meal, Carnell said, helps to keep him awake throughout the morning.
If he skips breakfast, Carnell said, “I get sleepy before lunch.”
Andre Rodriguez, a 10th-grader at McKinley High School, said he enjoys breakfast but doesn’t eat at home all the time. That’s why the classroom breakfast program is important. “If I don’t eat it at home all the time, I can get breakfast at school,” Andre said.
Buffalo mayoral candidates Bernard Tolbert and Sergio Rodriguez showed up at the event in support of the group.