Back-to-school preparations can be stressful for families but thanks to community efforts, hundreds of families will get help to start the year successfully.
This year, Tri-City community groups, church outreach programs, social service agencies and the food bank will make sure fridges are filled, children get fresh hair cuts and their backpacks are filled with school supplies.
The need is great, according to the latest statistics, which show one in five B.C. children living in poverty. In the Tri-Cities, Share Family and Community Services is seeing a 20% increase in the number of kids getting some of their food from the food bank.
In 2013, when The Tri-City News last wrote about school food programs, there were 1,300 children under 18 in families using food banks in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. That number has grown to more than 1,600 this year — a 23% increase.
“It is surprising/ B.C. is one of the most affluent province in Canada,” said Ron Goyette, past president of Rotary Club of Port Coquitlam Centennial.
But Goyette, who started a Starfish Pack program for PoCo elementary and middle schools in 2017, says pockets of poverty are found throughout School District 43, with the weeks leading up to a new school year among the most stressful for many families because of all the financial demands.
To ease the worry of local families, the PoCo Starfish Pack program provides a weekly backpack full of cupboard essentials — such as rice, pasta, pasta sauce and peanut butter — to 34 children at three elementary and one middle school.
Businesses, credit unions and Build a Biz Kids have worked with Rotary Club of Port Coquitlam Centennial to provide consistent support for these families, a commitment Goyette said is making a difference.
“Hopefully we can have a positive impact on these youth in their younger years,” he said.
Gaye Simms agrees. The current president of Rotary Club of PoCo Centennial told The Tri-City News last week that it’s gratifying to see youngsters walking home with backpacks or shopping bags full of groceries that will help their families stretch their dollars.
“It’s a really easy program to support and when people realize the program is there, they want to help out," she said.
To get a Starfish Pack, children are identified by school youth workers or counsellors, families are asked if they want to participate and, if room is available, students will be added to the list, benefitting from a $525 annual commitment in food from PoCo Rotary.
The program is not cheap, said Simms, and PoCo Centennial Rotary would like to be able to help more families.
To that end, the service group is hosting a Naked Pallet Paint Night fundraiser on Aug. 29 at the Kinsmen Clubhouse,; for a $60 contribution, participants can create an art project while guided by artists, and enjoy a dinner. More information is available at www.PoCoRotary.ca.
Across town in Coquitlam, another group is providing backpacks of food for students and the Coquitlam Firefighters Charitable Society is getting ready to provide breakfast and snacks for students when school starts, with a fundraiser gala planned for Sept. 28 at Riverside Community Church in PoCo.
To help families start off the school year on the right foot, the CityReach Care Society is hosting its first ever Back to School Blast. Saturday, Aug. 24 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the group will give away 200 backpacks with school supplies along with free haircuts, free back to school portraits, a free barbecue, and a used clothing sale. Tri-Cities community outreach director Craig Savage said he expects a good turnout at the event, which will be held at Broadway Church, 1932 Cameron Ave., PoCo.
His group has been providing food programs at three schools in Port Coquitlam and one in Coquitlam, where registered families get a selection of fruits, vegetables and dairy.
Savage said through the school program, he is seeing families who are struggling, sometimes just on a short-term basis because of a recent family issue. He hopes the Back to School Blast will make their first weeks in school happier and healthier.
“The idea is to have a bunch of supports in place for families facing those additional costs so parents can feel good about sending their kid back to school.”
More information about this event is available at www.cityreach.org/backtoschool.