The Port Alberni Backpack Program continues to support families despite school not being in session right now.
“Right now we’re giving out 38 packs of food,” spokesperson Linda Taylor said. “Normally it would be 42 to 46 packs, which is a fair amount between two schools.”
The program started nine years ago with six families at EJ Dunn Elementary School as a way to combat students’ hunger and provide families with food over the weekend. It has since expanded to Maquinna Elementary.
The bags provide fresh produce and proteins, with the idea of creating an entire meal from the contents. Hygiene products courtesy of the Soap for Hope program, administered through local Rotary clubs, are also included.
The program usually operates with a larger number of volunteers, many of them getting together to assemble the packs before distribution day. With the coronavirus pandemic and resulting COVID-19 restrictions, they have modified their operations to adhere to provincially mandated social distancing regulations, Taylor said.
A small number of volunteers bag groceries at the Alberni Valley United Church. Families go to either the church or Maquinna Elementary School to pick up their backpacks, where one person handles distribution.
“Normally, we’re a team of nine that works together,” she said.
The program is well supported by the community through food and cash donations.
The Backpack Program is a recent recipient of $2,000 in emergency COVID-19 funding distributed through the Alberni Valley Community Foundation, and receives assistance from the Salvation Army in the way of bulk purchasing of food.
They also receive cucumbers from Rage’s Farm, salvageable food from Costco through the PA Shelter Society, ongoing support from St. Vincent de Paul and other individual donations.
Taylor said the program usually only runs from September until June, however, volunteers have decide to extend the program through July due to the challenges families are facing with COVID-19 restrictions and job losses.
Anyone wishing more information about the program can read more on their Port Alberni Backpack program Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Port-Alberni-Backpack-Program-109635230453135/.
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