Food hampers reach hundreds of Edmonton students

Three weeks after schools shut down due to COVID-19, Edmonton school boards are mobilizing staff and resources to reach hundreds of students who relied on the nutrition program.

'We anticipate seeing these numbers increase over the coming weeks'

Nearly 300 hampers are going out to the homes of students at Edmonton Catholic this week. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Three weeks after schools were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Edmonton school districts are mobilizing staff and resources to reach hundreds of students who relied on the nutrition program.

On Monday, seven staff from Edmonton Catholic Schools, along with some volunteers, loaded up 296 hampers with roughly $29,000 worth of fruit, vegetables and non-perishable food.

The hampers will go to families at 19 schools throughout the city. Each hamper is expected to feed a family for roughly 2 weeks. 

The schools were chosen because they provided students with snacks, breakfast or lunch through the province's school nutrition program.

"We recognize that there is a real need because we do have families that might be in isolation," said Cheryl Shinkaruk, manager of programs and projects with Edmonton Catholic Schools.

"We have families who might have been faced with economic hardships."

When schools closed on March 14, tens of thousands of Alberta students lost access to daily meals through the program, prompting volunteers, community groups and businesses to help where they could. 

Staff and volunteers are mobilizing to get food to students who need it. (Edmonton Catholic schools)

At Edmonton Catholic Schools, roughly 1,070 students received breakfast or lunch on a daily basis.

This week's hampers were funded by the province as well as groups such as Breakfast for Learning and private donors.

"I think that we have a lot higher of a need than what we're filling here today. I think this is a start," Shinkaruk said. "We're hoping that we are able to support all of those families that have need in our district as best as possible." 

On Tuesday morning trucks will deliver the hampers to the schools and schools will contact families. If a family cannot pick up the food, it will be delivered to their home.

Tim Cusack, assistant superintendent at Edmonton Catholic Schools, said they'll continue to distribute food on a weekly basis. 

"We're going to continue to do our best with this as the situation unfolds," Cusack said.

In the 2018-2019 school year, an Edmonton Public Schools program provided 4,606 students at across 22 schools with a daily meal consisting of all four food groups.

The public district is supporting 856 families at 30 schools through a hamper program with a second program expected to launch soon. Gift cards are also being distributed.

"We anticipate seeing these numbers increase over the coming weeks," spokesperson Megan Normandeau said in an email. 
$29,000 of food is being assembled and distributed this week by Edmonton Catholic schools. (Edmonton Catholic Schools)

Nancy Petersen, managing director of district supports, said the board worked with a variety of funders and non-profit agency E4C to turn the nutrition program into a strategic hamper model.

That included having a kitchen approved that allowed for the handling of food under COVID-19 protocols and a safe work environment for staff.

"We're hoping that our hampers and our gift cards can be a supplement to other sources of food security," Petersen said. "We're part of the solution. But we realistically can't be the front-line solution to food security."

With files from Travis McEwan