Okanagan, Kamloops student meal programs meeting need of communities during pandemic

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School districts in the Okanagan and Kamloops are trying to make sure students don't go hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Schools reached out to every student’s family after the return from spring break, which provided a good opportunity to check in with families to see how they were coping with the change of events due to COVID-19. Those phone calls revealed that there is an increase in the number of students who are now struggling with food insecurity due to these uncertain economic times,” according to a Okanagan-Skaha school district media release dated April 15.

The school district has started providing weekly food hampers for students and their families who are in need, according to the news release. The hampers will be "filled with a few basic non-perishable food items along with some baked goods made in school kitchens by our staff. We also will continue to facilitate the Starfish backpack program in Penticton and the Penny Lane backpack program in Summerland," according to the District No. 67 in a press release.

Donation cheques payable to School District No. 67 can dropped off at the School Board Office at 425 Jermyn Avenue, or people can donate online by emailing their contact information, including their mailing address for their donation receipt, to accountsreceivable@summer.com and their password to their security question for the school district to accept the funds. Each donor should have their own security question and password, according to the news release.

"Non-perishable food items for hampers can also be dropped off at Penticton Secondary School. A collection bin is located at the front entrance of the school and will be available from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. While the collection is occurring at Penticton Secondary, the support is being provided district-wide,” according to the release.

Under the provincial mandate to support vulnerable populations, Central Okanagan Public Schools is distributing 7,300 meals to students in the district.

Each week, the Central Okanagan school district has sent 4,400 bag lunches to 880 families and 2,900 breakfast packages to 580 families, according to a report on how the district is meeting provincial priorities.

Students across the province have been adjusting to the digital classroom since B.C.’s K-12 system was suspended until further notice due to COVID-19. School districts have been adjusting to online teaching formats although in-class learning is still happening for families with Tier 1 essential workers such as firefighters, healthcare workers and police officers.

“Community partners are building and supplying many of the meal packages,” he said. “In most cases, families pick up the meals on a specific day from their neighbourhood school. In a few cases meal packages are dropped off on the door step at a prearranged time,” said district superintendent Kevin Kaardal.

The meal program was rolled out during the first week of April. The response has been mostly positive and some families have been brought to the point of tears of appreciation, he said.

READ MORE: 2,000 Central Okanagan kids will still get schools breakfast and lunch program

In Vernon, School District No. 22 superintendent Joe Rogers said families have appreciated the district's food program, which includes a brown paper bag lunch program where 230 students receive a week's supply of bagged lunches, and a fruit distribution program where participating schools can distribute healthy fruits and veggies.

In the South Okanagan, School District No. 53 has been providing families with gift cards, and families can either pick them up at certain locations or in some cases have them delivered to their homes, said superintendent Bev Young.

Some schools are also marking and delivering meals, and even groceries, Young said.

The meal program is supporting 194 of the district's students, so about nine per cent of the district's students, Young said. The program rolled out after spring break, roughly on April 3.

READ MORE: Learning from home, through ZOOM and sometimes in class, Central Okanagan schools adapting fast

Provincial health minister Bonnie Henry said during a press conference last Saturday, April 11, that it would be at least a few weeks until a date is set when students can return to schools.

“We have been considering how could we have physical classrooms come back in a way that protects (students, staff and educators,)" she said. “I actually believe we need to continue… with virtual classrooms for the next few weeks but it’s important for the children of our healthcare workers and other essential workers to have classroom education in a safe way.” 

We know children who are more disadvantaged, who are falling behind, when they have gaps like this they’re not as able to catch up, so we want to make sure our system is doing everything it can to support those children,” Henry said.

Requests for comment were not immediately returned from School District No. 67 and School District No. 73.

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