On school-day mornings – before many students are out of bed – Aldergrove’s Bella Howat is at school, chopping vegetables and mixing batter to make breakfast.
And it’s not always pancakes with Howat. Sometimes it’s tacos, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, or tortellini.
“Who says that breakfast has to be just breakfast?” Howat giggled.
She’s the first one at Shortreed Elementary every morning at 6 a.m., said principal Chris Wejr. The kids she serves don’t stroll in at around 7:30 a.m.
“I know how important it is for kids to get that first meal of the day to help them get through the school day, and to learn,” Howat told the Aldergrove Star.
And it’s made a huge difference for students “who otherwise would not eat in the morning,” said youth care worker Lindsay Romas.
After six years of organizing volunteers to dish up comforting meals to around 15 to 30 kids a day, Howat is having to step back due to serious health concerns.
On Friday, Howat cooked what was her last meal – at least for now – at Shortreed. But before she left, the school surprised her with a swarm of students and staff cheering her on.
“You’ve got this, Bella,” said one sign made and decorated by students. “We will miss you a lot and hope you get better,” read another sign.
Howat walked down the school hallway to a roar of student and teacher applause.
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“It was a total surprise,” Howat said. “I was overwhelmed. By that time, with my health issues, I couldn’t catch my breath or walk.”
Luckily, Shortreed principal Chris Wejr was able to scrounge up a mobility aid, and take Howat down the hallway as many times as she liked.
Soon, she was being pushed in a wheelchair by Wejr.
This allowed her more time to take in the dozens applauding her.
Howat waved, hugged, and hunched over, hiding a face full of tears upon seeing her child there.
“It was the most beautiful, wonderful experience,” Howat said.
Her only son – a teacher who currently lives in Edmonton – met Howat, surrounded by the students she served at the final hallway stop.
“He was really, really happy for me,” Howat told the Aldergrove Star.
Howat, as a single mother, couldn’t say enough about the value of the breakfast program for children and their families.
“People need stuff like this. The community needs stuff like this,” she maintained.
Life lessons over breakfast
During her six years of organizing the Shortreed Elementary program, Howat said she’s learned a lot from the students.
“It’s the children. They welcome others with open arms,” Howat elaborated.
In return, Howat added in tidbits of life lessons for kids to mull over during their meal.
“I treat those kids as I would my own,” she said. “And when they are under my care, they are.”
Since 1999, Breakfast Clubs of Canada has partnered with Aldergrove non-profit Acts of Kindness (AOK) to make free breakfast possible for students of Shortreed Elementary.
The school plans to support Howat through her fight for her health and “hope to see her back at our school as soon as she is ready,” Wejr said.
Howat said as soon as her health allows, she’ll be back cooking for the kids.