More children in Abbotsford will have proper meals on the weekends, thanks to generous contributions from the community – but the number of kids going hungry is “staggering.”
On Tuesday, the Rotary Club of Abbotsford presented a cheque for $35,000 to the Abbotsford Food Bank on behalf of the group, its members, and 16 corporate partners to fund the Blessings in a Backpack program.
But child poverty and hunger remain an issue in this city and across B.C. According to Stats Canada, B.C. has the highest rate of child poverty.
The backpack program – organized by the Rotary Club and the food bank – provides backpacks full of balanced meals to children who face sparse cupboards on the weekends. Currently, 62 students receive the backpacks, containing breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks.
The Rotary club also announced a new partnership with the Abbotsford Christian Assembly, which will provide funding for 25 more backpacks, as well as a dozen volunteers to shop, fill and deliver the packs for the remainder of the school year and beyond.
Dave Murray, co-ordinator of the Abbotsford Food Bank, said the school district has identified more than 100 kids in need of food in eight schools in Abbotsford. The organization also receives requests for help for students who haven’t been identified by the district. Bruce Beck, director of community service for the Rotary Club of Abbotsford, said the estimate of how many students who could use the assistance goes as high as 400.
For Murray, this is indicative of how great the need is – and how the demand for assistance could go on without limit.
Approximately 3,000 people receive food monthly from the Abbotsford Food Bank and of those 40 per cent are children, higher than the provincial average of 29.5 per cent.
In Abbotsford, 18 per cent of food bank clients are working adults, compared with 11.4 per cent in B.C. and 11.7 per cent in Canada.
Murray said the issue of child poverty in Abbotsford is “staggering,” and children are left as “victims of their parents’ circumstances.” He said high rent prices in Abbotsford, as well as cost of living and daycare expenses, mean that even working parents can struggle to provide for their children.
The backpack program currently runs at two schools in Abbotsford, with volunteer assistance from Northview Community Church. Beck said financial contributions are integral to the program, but a true necessity is the additional volunteers and the time commitment they make to the program.
After an article about the backpack program ran in The News Nov. 28, Beck said the club received inquiries from schools about the program and met with the district to discuss where there were students in need.
He said there is “excessively more need than resources” to help feed children in need, adding that the backpack program is only “an arrow in the quiver of services provided by the Abbotsford Food Bank.”
“We’re still only a fraction of the way to making sure that children in Abbotsford are not going hungry.”
However, additional donations have allowed the program to expand to four schools and 90 students in the new year.
Beck said the club was overwhelmed to learn of the need in Abbotsford – and then by the community’s response.
“What it says to me is that the notion of a child going without food for two days in this community is a concept that most residents wouldn’t have suspected, but when they were made aware of it, it touched people at a very deep level.”
Beck said child hunger and poverty is not a simple problem and the backpack program is not a solution, but rather a way of making sure kids aren’t going hungry while the community looks for long-term answers.
The cost to fund a backpack for a year is $525, and businesses, groups or individuals interested in contributing can contact Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Rotary club’s website to learn more.
Donations can also be made by calling the Abbotsford Food Bank at 604-859-5749, or visit the site at 33914 Essendene Ave. Cheques can be made out the Abbotsford Food Bank with “Blessings for Backpacks” on the notation line.