School, by definition, is an institution for educating children; however, in more recent times, they have become integral components in the effort to keep our children and communities healthy and safe.
“Throughout the province, families are accessing schools (partially) for food security,” explained Bonnie Millward, the youth services coordinator at Hope and Area Transition Society (HATS).
This morning, as many as one in six British Columbian children woke up with empty tummies and nothing in the fridge to help satiate that, says a Provincial Health Services Authority report. And it’s not just about being hungry.
About one in four children who grow up in food insecure homes more often present with symptoms of mood/anxiety disorders, which is “more than two-fold … higher than that among individuals living in food secure households,” wrote the report’s authors.
“Every child deserves access to food, (and for them to not have access is) simply not right, it’s not okay,” said Vancouver’s Emily-anne King. “That’s why we’re doing everything we can to fill this gap” with Backpack Buddies.
A not-for-profit organization, Backpack Buddies is doing what it can to get to the heart—or stomach—of the issue and curb hangry tantrums before they even start.
“We as people are here to help each other, and it’s our duty to do that,” King continued.
Which is how Backpack Buddies, after helping to fill bellies for nearly a decade in the Lower Mainland, found its way to the Eastern Fraser Valley, and the children of School District 78 (SD 78).
“It all started off with Fabio (Scaldaferri) knowing someone at the … program, and then expressing the desire to do something more for our wonderful community,” Millward said.
“I actually met Emily-anne and her mom during an entrepreneur retreat and we just really connected,” explained Scaldaferri.
“During our down time in Hope I was looking for more ways to be socially responsible … and this just all works from a transportation point.”
And by the end of Millward and Scaldaferri’s planning, a total of five community partners—HATS, Fraser Health, SD 78, Mattress Recycling, and Hope Community Services—had come together to turn the idea into a reality.
“We’re kind of what (Backpack Buddies) considers a distribution community, so Fabio’s people go down the Valley and pick up all of our kits, which is (234) bags during the school year.
“He gets to do all the heavy lifting and I get to do all the pencil pushing,” Millward added with a smile and laugh.
“Through the summer program, we’re supporting (Hope) with 80 bags of food,” added King.
Delivered on the last day of the school week, the bags contain items to help supplement the children with any food insecurity they may be experiencing at home.
“We are (here) to support (as many households as possible),” said King. “Parents often forgo (eating) to feed their kids, but now the kids are being fed, so there’s food for them to eat.”
And the food’s good, adds Scaldaferri. “I took one home and ate it all and liked all the food—it’s pretty impressive, actually.”
Full of non-perishable items, a Backpack Buddy bag—which is actually a grocery bag that goes into their backpacks—is designed to supplement a child’s at-home diet if their family has been identified as needing assistance, either through the school district, or one of the community partners.
“The ultimate dream is not having to do this work at all,” said King. “I love what I do, don’t get me wrong, but the implication is there are hungry kids out there and it’s heartbreaking. So that’s the fuel that keeps us going.”
And keep going they will, says Millward. Backpack Buddies intends to continue supporting Hope, and the rest of the Valley’s far end, as long as its required. “It’s as long as we need them, they have no intention of ceasing their supply to us.”
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.