Starting this month elementary school students in Aldergrove will be taking a weekend’s worth of food home with them every Friday.
It’s an initiative of the Aldergrove Rotary Club, designed to ensure that youths have food in their bellies on the days that school lunch programs are not available to the most needy.
It is inspired by, and modeled after, the Starfish backpack program launched by Abbotsford Rotary Club three years ago.
The program, which is supported and co-ordinated by the Abbotsford Rotary Club, began in the 2012/13 school year to help feed kids who might be going hungry on the weekends. Many of these students were part of their school’s breakfast and/or lunch programs during the week. Every Friday, participating students receive a backpack filled with two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners to last them for the weekend.
The empty packs are then returned and refilled for the following week, thanks to volunteers who shop for the items, fill the backpacks and deliver them to the schools.
The cost of providing the backpacks for one child for the school year is $525, which comes from donations from local organizations, individuals, businesses and churches.
The program started with 10 backpacks at one Abbotsford school and has since grown to over 200 backpacks at about a dozen schools. Abbotsford Rotary and their donors raised over $90,000 for the program last year.
Abbotsford Rotarian (and publisher of The Star’s sister paper, The Abbotsford News) Andrew Franklin said, “This is a far reaching program, impacting schools, business and the local food bank… it has been very successful here (and) I’m glad to hear it is taking off in Aldergrove.”
Aldergrove Rotarians Paul Guiton and Pauline Buck have taken on the project in Aldergrove and after several months work they plan a test launch of the Starfish backpacks on Friday, April 10.
They have secured funding for 20 backpacks until the end of the current school year, to be divided by Parkside and Shortreed elementary schools in Aldergrove.
Aldergrove Rotarians will be working on soliciting funding to expand the program for the entire school year next fall, and Guiton and Buck are confident that goal will be achieved.
“It looked like it would be a challenge but it really hasn’t been,” said Guiton. “People are falling over to help when we asked them to join us. We have some great community partners we’ve engaged to help us do it.”
Three local grocers — Safeway, Save-on Foods and Otter Co-op — are providing food at reduced prices to the Starfish program.
Sarah Barber, a nutritionist from Encompass society (formerly known as Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services) will be doing the shopping and advising on the contents of the backpacks, to provide maximum nutrition and ease of preparation for the youths.
The backpacks will be filled every Friday by community service volunteers from the Aldergrove Secondary Student Leadership program. They will be assisted by mentors from the Langley Township Fire Fighters charitable association.
Both elementary schools already have breakfast and snack programs in place during the school week through Breakfast Canada, and will identify the students most in need of the food packs.
The backpacks have been supplied by Unitex of Abbotsford, which “gave us a fantastic deal on them,” said Buck.
Aldergrove Rotary Club is currently developing a new website for the Aldergrove Starfish program, which will be www.starfishpack.ca, and tax deductible receipts will also be issued to donors.
Aldergrove Rotary’s goal is to have 40 Starfish packs sponsored by the start of the new school year.
In the meantime the public may direct queries about the program to Aldergrove Rotarian Pauline Buck at 604-812-1995.
-with files from Vikki Hopes