Carmen Larsen, left, and Mary Jackson with the Kalamalka Rotary Club celebrate the one-year anniversary of the club’s Starfish Packs program. (roger knox/morning star)

Starfish program packs helpful punch

Backpacks full of food are sent home on weekends to elementary students in need

Overwhelming community support has allowed a Kalamalka Rotary Club program to flourish.

The one-year anniversary of the launch of the Starfish Pack program in Vernon was celebrated at the club’s weekly meeting at the Vernon Lodge Hotel.

The Starfish Pack program addressed food insecurity and hunger by providing a weekend knapsack of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, fresh fruit and snacks to local elementary school children in need.

“We started with 20 backpacks in one school in April 2016,” said Dr. Carmen Larsen, community services director for Kal Rotary. “We had overwhelming support for the program from students, parents and the community.”

As a result, the program has been able to expand over the past year to 52 backpacks and, with recent donations, there will be 67 backpacks delivered to children at four elementary schools which started after spring break.

The program, said Larsen, relies on the generosity of community businesses, individuals and organizations, including School District 22, Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, Save-On Foods, Sun-FM and the Salvation Army.

“We have 70 people and organizations in the North Okanagan that have donated $57,000 to the program,” said Larsen.

Two champion donors were recognized at the luncheon: Great West Equipment and Tolko, with each company contributing more than 10 backpacks a year.

“We support the Starfish program as we want to support the community in areas that, to us, make a meaningful impact,” said Rob Rintoul, chief financial officer for Great West Equipment. “Youth is often our focus as there is great potential in every child.

“Giving them an opportunity to succeed with healthy food is something we felt fit our support objectives and is a great program…”

Added Brad Thorlakson, Tolko president and CEO: “We were made aware of Starfish Packs through our employees and quickly saw this as a program we needed to get behind. Working with Starfish Packs not only aligns with Tolko’s strong family values, it is something we can all be proud of each day.”

The Rotary meeting also kicked off the fundraising drive for the coming school year.

“Before knapsacks are provided, we need to know that funding is in place,” said Larsen. “A sustainable funding base will help ensure that this program continues to provide weekend food to children in need.”

At a cost of $525 per child for the school year, the program spends $15 per week to provide six meals in each weekend backpack.

Save-On Foods at Village Green Centre provides Starfish Packs with weekly groceries at cost, allowing the program to maximize every single dollar donated, and working towards its goal to change the world, one child at a time.

The Starfish Pack program started with the Abbotsford Rotary Club in 2013. It has since grown to be active in 16 cities, 60 schools and using 619 backpacks provincewide.