Throughout the province, students in many communities are showing up to school without a lunch or snacks to keep them fed throughout the day.
While there are lunch and snack programs at schools in Surrey provided by various service groups, with increasing household costs many of these same children go without basic meals on weekends as well.
So, in 2013 the Abbotsford Rotary Club and the Abbotsford Food Bank began a pilot project to provide weekend meals for children.
The Starfish Pack program provides two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners along with snacks for each child and is distributed to needy students every Friday.
Beginning in a single school and serving only six students, the program has now expanded to over a dozen communities across the province, including Surrey, as of Sept. 30.
Lena Shaw Elementary was be the first school in Surrey to take advantage of the program, providing 10 back packs to needy children.
“Any support of this type, helping students after school is good thing, we’re really grateful to all organizations and individuals that come forward to help the food programs,” said Surrey School District spokesperson Doug Strachan. “The return on all of these programs is a child who has a chance to be more successful in school and not be distracted by hunger while they’re learning.”
Each Starfish Pack program is 100 per cent funded by local volunteers and donations with no paid staff or government funding.
“One unexpected outcome was that we’re seeing the program have a measurable impact on student attendance,” said Starfish Pack organizer Bruce Beck of the Abbotsford Rotary Club. “Students have to attend class on Friday to get their backpack and they have to return the empty backpack on Monday to have it refilled. Those are the two days that traditionally have the highest absenteeism rates, so kids are coming to class more often, worrying less about what to eat and learning more,” he said.
Working with local Save-On-Foods locations in each community and receiving all food at-cost, the Starfish Pack program is able to provide the backpack filled with six meals for an annual cost of $525 per child or $12-15 per week.
Currently the district has breakfast programs, lunch programs and snack programs and feeds about 3,500 children a day, however, Strachan estimates the need is probably closer to about 6,000 students.
To find out how to support Surrey Starfish Packs, go to: http://starfishpack.com/surrey/#donate