W.L. McLeod Elementary school’s backpack program has been running for four years, and through the pandemic, the school collaborated with local community partners to ensure that vulnerable families in the district were getting weekly food hampers.
“It became apparent very quickly that COVID-19 was affecting many families throughout Vanderhoof. It was about families that had lost jobs but it was also because so many kids who would usually have breakfast, snack, and lunch at school were no longer in school,” Libby Hart, principal of W.L. McLeod Elementary told The Express.
As a result, Vanderhoof Food Programs Committee was formed. This committee comprises of “passionate staff” from McLeod, Evelyn Dickson Elementary School and Nechako Valley Secondary School who got together to find a solution.
Soon they were providing weekly food hampers to over forty-five families from all elementary schools across Vanderhoof. Simultaneously, Nechako Valley Secondary School was providing hampers on alternate weeks to twenty families, Hart said.
In terms of the contents of the hampers, Hart said they are different each week but usually contain milk, bread and eggs. The hamper contains breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack foods and there are always a few staples and condiments, she said.
Additionally, there is meat, frozen foods, produce, canned foods, “and we have been lucky to have freshly prepared foods from our kitchen like chili and Shepard’s Pie and freshly baked muffins and bread,” Hart added.
Through this time, the schools “formed and enhanced” their relationship with NeighbourLink, Carrier Sekani Family Services and Saik’uz First Nation as they worked towards a common goal, she said.
Aside from costs covered by the schools, local businesses and organizations donated close to $40,000 for the backpack program, Hart said. These businesses include – Rio Tinto Alcan, Integris Credit Union, Centerra Gold, New Gold, Streamline Signs, Four Rivers Co-Op, Talwar’s Hygiene First Cleaning, Vanderhoof Community Foundation donated to the backpack program.
Meanwhile, community members donated over $6,500 for the program as well.
“The outpouring of support was overwhelming and so very appreciated. There are no words to express how much it has meant to many,” Hart said.
The school has continued to provide hampers each week throughout April, May and June. The goal is to provide a large hamper at the end of June and then again at the end of August.
“We are now aware that the need in our community reaches far beyond even what we were providing through our Backpack program,” Hart said adding that their hope is to keep the Vanderhoof Food Programs Committee active in the Fall to respond to needs in the district.
“We will respond to what COVID brings but, at the very least, return to our weekend Backpack program,” she said.