Starfish Pack Program partners include Brad Boivin (left)

Starfish Pack Program partners include Brad Boivin (left)

Starfish program expands in Vernon schools

This program addresses food insecurity and hunger by providing a weekend knapsack of food

With the start of a new school year, the Starfish Pack Program will be launching an expanded program for its first full year of operation in Vernon.

This program addresses food insecurity and hunger by providing a weekend knapsack of two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, fresh fruit and snacks for local elementary school children in need.

“We started a pilot program with 20 backpacks in one school from April to June last year,” said Carmen Larsen, community services director for Kalamalka Rotary.

“We had overwhelming support for the program from students, parents and the community and, as a result, we are able to expand the program to 40 children at two elementary schools in Vernon.

“Without the partnership with the Vernon School District, Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and Save-On Foods, this program would not have been possible. This program has been supported by a number of businesses and organizations, such as Sun FM, Salvation Army, Great West Equipment and numerous donors, which is important as this program is community funded and relies on a team of volunteers.”

Lack of access to food affects children and family in many ways.

Studies show that children have difficulty learning and concentrating at school if they are hungry. They have more difficulty fighting disease and maintaining health without regular access to food.

“There are many reasons families are struggling with food insecurity, unforeseen circumstances such as unemployment, layoffs, health concerns and limited income,” said Kirstie Blanleil, area director for the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club.

“The Starfish Pack program supports local families facing these challenging circumstances. Meal times provide an opportunity for parents to make connections with their children and support healthy development. We are proud to be a part of this community initiative.”

While in school, breakfast and lunch programs provide a basic level of food security during the school week for some students, but Blanleil says that during weekends, many of the children who rely on those school programs go without eating until they return to school on Monday morning.

The Starfish Program was brought to B.C. two years ago by the Abbotsford Rotary Club and Abbotsford Food Bank who named it the Starfish Program after the Parable of the Starfish, which illustrates the importance of helping even just one life in need.

What started at a single school in Abbotsford in the spring of 2013 has grown to more than a dozen B.C. communities, including Vernon.

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.

Working with Save-On Foods at the Village Green Centre, which provides Starfish Packs with the weekly groceries at cost, Larsen says the program is maximizing every donated dollar and working towards changing the world, one child at a time.

To find out more, or to make a donation, visit http://starfishpack.com/vernon/.