'Staggering' number of hungry children in Thunder Bay, Ont., says food program organizer
Isthmus program resumes after finding new partners to help with pandemic protocols
The organizer of the Isthmus food program in Thunder Bay, Ont., says a feeling of relief washed over her when she found new partners to help her resume deliveries of food to hungry school children and their families.
When schools closed in the spring, Isthmus partnered with Roots to Harvest to deliver food to 450 families, between March and August, said Amina Abu-Bakare, the local organizer.
But as classes resumed this fall, pandemic protocols prevented volunteers from using the space in schools to prepare the packages to be sent home with students, she said. Then, St. Paul's Anglican Church offered space in its basement.
"I have worried and worried and worried about what and how I was going to do it, so I feel a big sense of relief that the kids that need food will be getting food," Abu-Bakare said.
Seeing the need in the community this summer was "staggering, it was really scary," she said, adding that 20 per cent of the people who received the food between March and August said it was their first time accessing a food program.
"It showed there was a lot of poverty and so many people struggling."
Abu-Bakare said the pandemic has added another layer of stress for people accessing food programs as they must now consider whether its safe to ride the bus or share a ride with others.
The Isthmus program helps eliminate that concern by sending food home with children who already have transportation to and from school. It provides a weekly package— enough to eat for the weekend — to students who rely on school nutrition programs throughout the week. The national organization has been operating in Thunder Bay for seven years.
Hundreds of heavy food packages are sent out to 13 different schools each week, Abu-Bakare said. Getting the bags of food to the schools, once they'd been packed, was another pandemic problem in need of a solution.
Paramedics used to volunteer to provide that service, but they're not allowed to have unnecessary contact with the public, Abu-Bakare said.
The Kinsmen and Kinettes are now stepping into that role, she said. They'll drop the food off in the office of each school where it's distributed discreetly to hungry students who've been identified by school staff.
"The community has been just amazing," Abu-Bakare said. "I couldn't have done it without Thunder Bay community."
The Isthmus program resumes in Thunder Bay on Oct. 29, with all volunteers wearing personal protective equipment and food packaged in new bags for each delivery, she said.
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- An earlier version of this story stated the food bags were being packed at St. John's Anglican church, when in fact the church that donated the space is St. Paul's Anglican.Oct 15, 2020 9:15 AM ET