Eagle View support staff, waiting for families to come pick up the food bags, stand on the physical distancing eagles the school has spray painted outside to help students keep apart when they come back to school June 1. L-R Karen Strussi, Beatrice Wadhams, Pauline Johnson

Port Hardy school sending food home to students in need

Hunger doesn’t take the weekend — or a pandemic — off

Port Hardy’s elementary school has partnered with Backpack Buddies to distribute food to students in need.

Every Friday, support staff open the school for families to pick up six meals of child-friendly food that’s easy to prepare without adult supervision.

The Vancouver-based non-profit organization supplies non-perishable food like Kraft Dinner and canned spaghetti. The weekly bags are supplemented with fresh food from the B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable program, and the Nanaimo-based Loaves and Fishes food bank.

Child poverty in the north Island is one of the three highest regions in B.C., according to the official 2017 Canadian census. Provincially, one in five children live in poverty – in the Mount Waddington region, it’s one in three.

Eagle View principal Jillian Walkus sees her school as a natural access point to address child hunger.

“It’s a basic human right for children to have food, and food security is a problem for a number of families. And it’s something we can do.”

RELATED With child poverty in Port Hardy a growing concern, what can be done to help families struggling to get by?

Of the school’s 220 students, 48 signed up to receive the food packages, and Walkus expects more will join if the program extends.

It started in May as a pilot, and will run until the end of June. Now that the school knows they can manage the workload — it takes support staff four hours to break down the bulk pallets into 192 individual bags, and a few hours each Friday to supplement bags with fresh food for pick-up — they are interested in extending the program through the summer and into the next school year.

“Hunger doesn’t take a break on the weekend just because school isn’t in session. And it’s the same for summer – families are still in need,” she said. Walkus is reaching out to participating families to find out if they want the program to continue.

When school is in session, Eagle View serves breakfast five days a week, and has groceries on hand to make emergency lunches. They typically make 16-20 lunches a day for students who arrive without food. Food programs are made possible with support from Breakfast for Learning, B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable program, Harvest Foods Food Bank, and donations from the Lions club and the school PAC.

Discussions to start a Backpack Buddies program in the north Island began long before the coronavirus caused schools to close. In October, Mount Waddington Community Food Initiative leader Leslie Dyck connected School District 85 with Backpack Buddies. By January, funding to start the pilot program was confirmed, and the first delivery was sent in May. Don Kattler with the Ministry of Children and Family Development has been instrumental in supporting the program, Walkus said.

Eagle View is just one school receiving the Backpack Buddies deliveries – Port Hardy Secondary School, Sunset Elementary in Port McNeill, Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Elementary school and the ‘Namgis T’lisalagi’lakw School in Alert Bay are also participating in the Backpack Buddies program.

Pallets of non-perishable food are delivered monthly to Eagle View where they are separated for each school, and then packed into bags.

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