Imagine starting your school day hungry and unable to focus on what your teacher is saying because of your growling stomach and pounding headache. For one in seven Canadian children, this is a reality.
Recognizing that hunger has a huge impact on a child’s ability to learn and function, The Salvation Army in Red Deer, Alta., approached the Red Deer Public School Board to start a weekend feeding program where a backpack filled with nutritious food would be taken home by hungry students to last the weekend.
“The backpacks take away some of the stress of meeting basic needs”
The feedback from the school board was extremely positive and what began in 2014 with 21 children at one school has now grown to include 184 children from 15 schools, with ongoing requests to add students to the program.
“The program is definitely fulfilling a huge need for some families,” says Cathy Gukert, school principal. “The amazement and delight on their faces is fabulous to see. All the backpacks are returned on the following Monday to be refilled for the next weekend. That attests to the need.”
On Fridays, backpacks are delivered by The Salvation Army Family Resource team to the school office where they are handed out to the children. In consultation with a nutritionist, the backpacks are filled with food items such as oatmeal, macaroni and cheese and fruit cups that provide adequate nutrition.
“The backpacks contain enough supplies for Saturday and Sunday during the school year and foods that the children can prepare,” says Deanna Scott, Family Services Coordinator for The Salvation Army.
Comments from parents and teachers are encouraging. Teachers note that children are more alert and ready to learn and struggling parents have one less thing to worry about.
“The program allows us to stretch our food supply and save money for necessities,” says one parent. “The backpacks take away some of the stress of meeting basic needs,” says another. “Providing for six kids is a struggle.”