Board of Health recognizes Immaculate Conception principal Mary Cozzarini, long-time advocate for Student Nutrition Programs

Mary Cozzarini headshot

June 10, 2021,

At last night’s (June 9, 2021) Peterborough Board of Health meeting, Immaculate Conception CES principal Mary Cozzarini was recognized for her 29 year-long commitment to local student nutrition programs.

“Mary was one of the first at the table, and started something so valuable to our community,” said Luisa Magalhaes, registered dietitian at Peterborough Public Health who helps coordinate the local Food For Kids program. “It’s not a coincidence that Peterborough and County’s Food for Kids is one of the most established breakfast club networks and partnerships in the province!”

Back in 1992, a local service club approached two downtown Peterborough schools, Central Public School, and St. Peter Catholic Elementary School, with the idea of feeding hungry children before the start of the school day.  Mary, then a family studies teacher with PVNC, stepped forward to help mould and support the budding idea.

She recalls how her students at St. Peter would finish everything that was prepared in foods class; they were hungry. Mary could not ignore this incredible need for food at school, and her professional training as a food and nutrition teacher fueled her understanding how healthy eating at school positively impacts student learning, attention, energy and participation.

She was soon feeding 250 students breakfast each day. Often, kids would be waiting outside her door first thing in the morning. Being the resourceful, action-oriented person that she is, Mary organized staff to pick up donations all over the city, and in no time, had 44 volunteers from various businesses and organizations serving food to kids. Her room became the school hub. After dishing up and clearing away the breakfast program, she would take off her apron, and walk to the front of the room to start teaching.

In 1996, Mary was instrumental in the first Breakfast for Learning Grant that brought our community together with a shared vision. The immediate years following saw the growth of a network of more schools, volunteers, funders, and organizations. Mary was always there, the ever calm, wise, passionate and dedicated member of the steering committee and very involved in her school’s breakfast program, paving the way for access to healthy food at school. As a teacher and later as a principal, Mary knew that for so many students, a morning meal and the warm, welcoming smile of volunteers was a motivating, positive and necessary start to the school day. Mary led the partnership through a time of significant challenges and transition. Mary and the steering committee were steadfast in their belief that Food for Kids needed to stay tied to the local public health agency: which they saw as a cornerstone, embedded in best practice, credibility, with the core value that good nutrition helps students perform their best.

Mary’s passion and advocacy skills helped establish PVNC’s annual funding from the school board to their school student nutrition programs, as well as the board’s school nutrition policies, which included student nutrition as a valued part of the school day.

Today, the Food for Kids partnership includes 51 of the 53 local publicly-funded schools, and last year served almost 1.5 million meals to 19,313 students.

“Mary has been a pivotal player in our community’s growth and success.  Her legacy will continue on in the healthy meals served at our local schools, helping children start their day with the nutrition they need to perform their best.  Our community is so grateful for her contributions,” the Peterborough Board of Health said.