This September, 90 North Delta kids will be sure of getting enough to eat on the weekend.
The North Delta Rotary Club and Deltassist have teamed up for the third year of North Delta’s Starfish Backpack program, an annual campaign that provides at-risk students and their siblings with food to sustain them over the weekend.
It started with 15 kids in one North Delta elementary school back in 2016. Each student would receive a backpack filled with food on Friday afternoon, which would provide them with enough sustenance to come back to school on Monday “refreshed, ready to learn and be able to learn properly,” North Delta Rotary Club president Kim Kendall said.
“A lot of the schools have lunch programs, sometimes they have breakfast programs, so that’s where we thought there was a need for it for the weekend.”
Kendall has been involved with the Starfish Backpack program since it started and has seen it grow from 15 students at one school to 50 students (plus 40 siblings) across six North Delta schools.
“We’d definitely like to expand it,” she said. “We’d like the Rotary clubs in the South Delta area … to pick up the project and look after the kids in the South Delta area as well.”
The Rotary Club of Surrey also provides the service in that community.
The Starfish Backpack program actually started in Abbotsford in 2013 but is now available in 19 communities in B.C. and Washington State.
The program is simple: teachers identify students in their classrooms who may not be getting enough to eat when they are at home. After asking the parents if they would like to be part of the program, the school provides the Rotary Club with the number of students at each school who will be taking part.
Backpacks are packed up by Rotary volunteers Thursday afternoon and left at the office of each elementary school on Friday so that students can discreetly pick them up at the end of the week.
|Food being packed up for the Starfish program backpacks.
Kim Kendall photo
The bags include ingredients for three meals a day, as well as snacks and fresh fruit. This year, the program is on a rotating meal plan, so students in the program will receive lunches of macaroni and cheese, peanut butter bagels and soup; dinners of spaghetti, soup, chili and rice dishes; and breakfasts of different kinds of cereals. There are also vegetarian meals available.
More schools have been contacting the Rotary Club to become part of the Starfish Backpack program, but the club won’t bring on any more students without knowing they can support them throughout the year. Each bag costs $525 to fill with food for one kid from September to June.
Right now, Rotary has enough money to support all 50 students and their 40 siblings until December. They plan to raise more money through their usual fundraising events, but are also hoping the community will pitch in to help bring in the $10,000 needed to feed the kids through to June.
Donations can be made to the Starfish Backpack program through Deltassist.
“We don’t want to commit to something if we can’t keep it going,” Kendall said. “We want it to be long-lasting, we want it to be sustainable, and we don’t want it to just end. Because who’s going to get hurt is these kids.”
The first backpacks will be available for students in the program on Sept. 16.