British Columbia

'Starfish' backpacks help children left hungry, dreading weekends

After community members in Vernon realized students were coming to school hungry on Monday mornings, they began a successful meal program that provides weekend meals.

'Easiest thing I've ever organized ... it's local and it's helping right now.'

Backpacks contain two breakfasts, lunches and dinners, including fresh fruit (Starfishpacks.com)

The glory of the weekend— free time, plans with friends, hopefully some sunshine. 

However, some chidren in Vernon were approaching each weekend with apprehension and dread because they were going hungry, for days, without the school-provided lunches of the weekday. 

I see it all the time and it's heartbreaking and it's wrong- Dr. Carmen Larsen

Local doctor Carmen Larsen, along with the Kalamalka Rotary she's a part of, decided to do something about it. 

"It's hard to believe but we really are talking about children who have no food at home," she said.

"I see it among my children's friends. I see it in front of me in my office. I see it all the time and it's heartbreaking and it's wrong."

She approached the Vernon School District last December about the Starfish Packs meal program.  

The pilot program sees kids leave school on Friday with a small black backpack, with a simple logo of a smiling golden starfish.

The backpacks jammed with protein and goodies help children enjoy weekends, like children should. (Starfishpack.com)

The backpacks have two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners, including an apple, orange and banana. 

Inspiring response

Mary Takasaka is the principal of Alexis Park Elementary School.

She says the benefits to kids and their families is inspiring.

"One lady said it's an absolute miracle. 'It's been a lifesaver in my family. When we open that backpack they eat absolutely everything.' They love it," she said.

Children are sent home with backpacks full of food to combat hunger on the weekends (Starfishpack.com)

The program began in Vernon as a three-month pilot, but it's been so successful it will be offered to kids throughout the school year starting in September.  

Each backpack costs just over $500 a year. 

Alexis Park supplies 20 packs right now. 

Local businesses donate all the food and Kalamalka Rotary volunteers pack each bag. 

The Starfish Packs team in Vernon: from left Brad Boivin, Kirstie Blanleil, Carmen Larsen Sarah Pruckl, Jim Ferguson and Navi Dhaliwal (Alya Ramadan/CBC)

The Starfish Packs meal program originally began three years ago in Abbotsford, and continues to grow. 

The program is now in in 36 schools in seven cities, feeding approximately 460 kids. 

Dr. Larsen says every business she contacted for help said yes without hesitation. 

"This has been the easiest thing I've ever organized because it makes sense, it's local and it's helping right now."

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