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Thunder Bay families get meal help on weekends

Thunder Bay’s Amina Abu-Bakare says many children in the city spend their weekends hungry — and she’s asking for help with a program she’s started to help families put food on the table.

Blessings in a Backpack program sends children home from school with bags of food

Thunder Bay volunteers bag food for children to take home to their families on the weekend. Blessings in a Backpack was founded in the United States in 2005. The program came to Canada in 2008. Canada is one of the only developed countries in the world without a national meal program for children in schools. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Thunder Bay’s Amina Abu-Bakare says many children in the city spend their weekends hungry — and she’s asking for help with a program she’s started to help families put food on the table. 

Every Thursday afternoon, Abu-Bakare works with volunteers at the Our Kids Count centre on Thunder Bay's south side to fill backpacks with soup, pasta, oatmeal, fruit.

The Regional Food Distribution Association provides some of the staples, Our Kids Count supplies the fruit, and Abu-Bakare buys the rest with donations.

On Fridays those backpacks go home with 104 children whose families might otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

"As a former school council chair, I was aware that we had kids in town who were relying solely on school meals,” she said.

“I did wonder what happened in the evenings and on weekends."

So Abu-Bakare started a local chapter of Blessings in a Backpack. The chapter is currently helping children from three schools.

"It makes a tremendous difference for our kids ... and from parents, we just get a sense, you know, there's some quiet thank you’s,” said Christy Radbourne , principal of Ogden Community School.

But Abu-Bakare said many more children also need help, and she’s appealing to the public for donations or to volunteer their time.

“It only takes $100 to feed one child, every weekend throughout the school year. This amounts to $2.50 a week,” she wrote in a recent press release.

Funding to start Blessings in a Backpack in Thunder Bay was made possible with a $10,000 donation per year for the next three years from Toronto-based Northwater Capital Management Inc., she noted.

Abu-Bakare and her volunteers delivered their first 78 backpacks to Ogden Community, McKellar and Sherbrooke Public Schools in February. The schools selects the children involved in this program, abd letters are sent home informing the parents of the program.

If families do not wish to participate, they simply have to say “no thanks,” Abu-Bakare added.

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