From hot breakfasts and lunches to snacks, all of Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District’s food programs have another thing in common besides nutrition: The non-profits and volunteers behind them.
“Non-profits in our community are a very integral part of our food programs because without their support, we just wouldn’t have the financial capacity to do all the programs that we’re currently doing,” said Jeannie Harnett, the district’s community connections and healthy living/food security program manager.
This includes the Friends in Need Food Bank, Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, Youth Unlimited and the Meadow Ridge Rotary Club.
The Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District supports the vital work of these non-profits by providing some funding from the province’s Feeding Futures program that aims to expand access to healthy meals and snacks at school.
Friends in Need Food Bank
Karen Osborne is standing in front of a table, looking down at a school order form.
At the beginning of every week, Osborne, the school meal and snack program coordinator at Friends in Need Food Bank, goes through this list of food requests from schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
“I order the food at the beginning of the week,” she explained. “I order the dairy from Save-On-Foods and I have other snacks ordered from other stores.”
On Fridays, Osborne packs the bins with the dry goods and non-perishables. Each bin labelled with a school’s name.
The following Monday, on the way to deliver the items to their destinations, she stops at Save-On-Foods to pick up the dairy in the food bank’s refrigerated van.
“Then we take it to the schools, fill the bins and deliver it straight to the doors,” Osborne said.
The food bank delivers weekly to 33 meal and snack programs at elementary schools, secondary schools, and outreach programs within the schools.
The school meal and snack program has been around since 2016.
“There was just a need in the schools for extra snacks and help with kids who were coming hungry,” Osborne said.
While the program has been around for eight years, Osborne has been coordinating it for seven.
“From doing this for so many years, I’ve seen and heard the impact of how when you’ve got a full tummy, you learn better, you concentrate better,” Osborne said. “It’s very rewarding, I love doing it.”
To donate to the Friends in Need Food Bank school meal and snack program, click here. Select the program on the dropdown menu.
Meadow Ridge Rotary Club
Inside a small room in the Friends in Need Food Bank, there are a dozen volunteers, chatting and laughing while filling up green reusable shopping bags with grocery items.
They move together in harmony like a well-oiled machine, each person with their own assigned task for efficiency.
Half of them move in two single file lines on either side of a table with grocery stacked on top, filling the bags with items as they go. Two volunteers tie the completed bags with twine, while another flattens cardboard boxes for recycling. A pair works outside, loading the bags into vehicles.
“This is our weekly work party and they’re all volunteers,” said Ineke Boekhorst, coordinator of the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Starfish Pack Program.
Boekhorst, like most of the volunteers putting together the packs, is a member of the Meadow Ridge Rotary Club.
“This is one of our community projects and our club is so emotionally involved in this,” she said. “All our members help in one way or another.”
The program began in 2016 with only four packs at Golden Ears Elementary. It was meant to fill a gap in the food program offerings.
“We felt that there [were] lots of programs in the schools for lunch, breakfast, there are all kinds of things,” Boekhorst explained. “But there [was] nothing for the weekend. This pack goes out on Friday with the kids.”
Eight years later, they’re putting together 300 bags for 27 schools weekly, and Boekhorst says the need continues to grow.
“We’re just hoping to help with the food security in those families that need a little bit of help,” she said.
To donate to the Meadow Ridge Starfish Pack Program on the Friends in Need Food Bank website, click here. Select the program from the dropdown menu.
Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries
Vino Muthukkaruppan and his team of volunteers make more than 700 sandwiches a week.
They make ham and cheese sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, and vegetarian ones as well.
The sandwiches, along with a fruit and snack, make up lunch bags for students across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
“The Salvation Army always tries to help people in the community,” said Muthukkaruppan, food services coordinator at the non-profit organization’s local chapter.
The lunch bag program is a way for them to help kids in the community who may otherwise go hungry, he added.
The program runs three days a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Each week, there are about 10 volunteers assembling the sandwiches and packing them up, and another 10 delivering the bags to schools.
“The need for the bag lunches increases every year,” he noted. “So, we’re kind of helping as much as we can.”
To donate to the Salvation Army school lunch bag program, click here. Select the program from the dropdown menu.
Sandra Blechinger wakes up at the crack of down and makes her way to Thomas Haney Secondary.
Once she arrives, she begins to prepare a breakfast for the students and staff who will enter the cafeteria doors at 8 a.m. On the menu: pancakes, bacon and apple juice.
Blechinger is a youth worker with Youth Unlimited. The organization runs a universal breakfast program at Thomas Haney Secondary and two other schools in Maple Ridge, Westview Secondary and Connex.
“I think that one of the most important pieces of serving a hot breakfast program is that these kids feel cared for,” Blechinger said. “They feel loved and there’s an opportunity to create connections.”
Not only are the students excited about getting a hot breakfast, but the social connection it provides, she added.
“They want to participate in just eating a meal with friends, sitting around a table, just having a conversation,” Blechinger said. “They light up.”
To donate to the Youth Unlimited universal breakfast program, click here. Select the program from the dropdown menu.
There are several other community-based partners supporting the district’s food security programs.
The intergenerational garden is a partnership between seniors and students at Eric Langton to grow and harvest produce just around the corner from the school.
During the 20 peak growing weeks of the school year, the CEED Centre Society coordinates the purchase of fresh produce from local farmers that is then delivered to schools in bins once a week.
“We are grateful for both because they are offering us a very high quality, very delicious lunch,” Harnett said. “There is also such a sense of generosity where they are providing a little extra where it is needed.”
All these food programs, made possible through these community partnerships, have a significant impact for students.
“There’s two things that these food programs feed,” Harnett said. “I think it feeds the soul and it feeds the body. There’s social connection, there’s just a joy in meeting other people [and] sharing food together.”
Where there is access to food programs in school, attendance improves, students are able to concentrate in class and it’s one more thing children can look forward to at school, she added.
“I love the saying that the heart of the home is the kitchen and I think that same applies, the heart of the [school] is where those food programs are running,” Harnett said.
To learn more about the food security supports and programs available to students in the Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District, click here.