The first full week of the new school year is complete and children are excited to enjoy their days off from studying.
But for the thousands of children across the province who face food insecurity and depend on school meal programs, the weekend may mean days of going hungry.
Vancouver-based charity Backpack Buddies is helping to fill in the long gaps where the availability of food is uncertain. But due to a variety of challenges, they are looking for assistance from the community to continue feeding children in need.
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“Hidden hunger lives in your neighbourhood this back-to-school season,” said Emily-Anne King, co-executive director and co-founder of Backpack Buddies, to Daily Hive. “Right now food inflation is at a 40-year high, at nearly 10% year over year. This hits children and families hardest because they’re already stretched. We’ve recently spoken to parents that sometimes skip meals in order to make sure their kids have food.
“The phone has been constantly ringing at Backpack Buddies from new schools, communities, and families who are looking for help feeding hungry children this fall.”
According to King, at least one in five kids in BC faces food insecurity. During the pandemic, the number rose to as many as one in three.
Backpack Buddies helps about 4,500 kids every week by discreetly providing bags of food to them every Friday. The bags include enough meals and snacks to last the weekend and beyond so the recipients return to school nourished and ready to learn.
“Food insecurity has a profound impact on children’s lives,” explained King. “Kids who arrive to class hungry can lose up to two hours of productivity per school day and make slower gains in math, reading, and comprehension. They also have poorer physical and mental health than their peers. Persistent hunger can set a child back for life.”
Backpack Buddies began in 2012 when King and her mother Joanne Griffiths teamed up to provide 20 backpacks filled with food to children in East Vancouver. Over the next decade, they have expanded to work with over 230 distribution partners — including more than 200 schools — across the province.
“We are mindful that children receiving support never feel singled out and that no one is made to feel like there’s something wrong or abnormal about their family’s circumstances,” Backpack Buddies shared on their website.
The grassroots organization is now looking for help to continue its important work ensuring children no longer face the weekend hunger gap.
“Increased prices are also putting pressure on Backpack Buddies. Inflation means that more kids are hungry and it’s even more difficult to help,” explained King. “Our monthly bill for food has gone up by more than $7,000 per month over the past eight months or so.
“Oatmeal, for example, recently jumped 14% and Rice Cups recently increased by almost 10%. We also had increases on basics like Kraft cups and Jello just last month, and we’ve been warned by suppliers that more increases this fall are inevitable.”
Backpack Buddies has also seen a huge jump in the cost of delivering food to children across BC.
“Fuel prices have reduced somewhat, but they’re still very expensive and we need fuel to transport the food across the province,” added King. “Our prices skyrocketed from $850 per month in 2020 to now an estimated $1,800 per month for September. Put another way, the fuel cost to deliver a single bag of food to a hungry child has more than doubled in two years.”
There are many ways to support the charity in its mission, including joining The Friday Club monthly giving program, shopping its Nourish & Flourish online marketplace, and hosting a virtual food drive.
“We’ve always been proud of our community. From schools to donors, staff to volunteers, we are a grassroots organization and recognize the power of our collective action,” said Backpack Buddies on its website.
For more information, visit backpackbuddies.ca.
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