School meals program continues

SD54 schools now providing bag breakfast, lunch and snacks for students and hampers for families

School District 54 (SD54) administrators and staffers have moved quickly to restore a meal program for its most vulnerable students.

In normal times those students would be benefitting from in-school breakfasts and lunches but now with the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s not possible.

Although schools are now open, they are closed to students, parents and guardians and no instruction is taking place following on a directive issued through the provincial health officer last month.

Strong efforts this week, however, resulted in students being provided a form of a brown bag lunch which are then made available for pick up from schools said Michael McDiarmid, SD54 superintendent.

“We already have an idea who our vulnerable students area,” he said as contact was made with parents and guardians to determine need.

“We’ve been taking the advice of Northern Health as to what to provide.”

Providing services for vulnerable students is one of four core principles laid out by provincial education minister Rob Fleming as school districts, their teachers and employees work on resuming instruction.

At Walnut Park Elementary in Smithers, principal Nicole Davey said as many as 10 students were on the food provision list last week compared to the up to 15 students who would benefit from breakfast and lunches had the school been open for regular instruction.

But Davey won’t be surprised if that number grows as the needs of families evolve with parents and guardians facing lengthy periods of unemployment because businesses have closed.

“Twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, we’re leaving packages outside the school with students’ names on them for pickup,” she said.

“We’re including a couple of days of snacks, food for breakfast and lunch. And on Fridays we’re going to have a larger package, pasta and soups,” said Davey.

For some families, walking to the school to pick up packages is one way to get out of the house for exercise and fresh air, she said.

And for those families who can’t get to the school, volunteers from the Smithers fire department will be making deliveries of the larger packages today, as part of a commitment to deliver one Friday per month. The school will arrange for delivery the other Fridays of a month.

Other schools in the district have similar efforts underway.

In Houston, Silverthorne Elementary’s staffers have been assembling lunch packages of sandwiches or wraps supplemented with fruits and vegetables and, to ensure students have something for breakfast, oatmeal is included, said principal Julie Krall.

“We have amazing staff,” said Krall of the effort being put into assembling and packaging the food for pick up.

In regular times, as many as 70 students out of a school population of 175 students would have breakfast and lunch at the school. The program is open to all and its core foundation is that no one pays.

Last week, the school was providing food packages to 25 families, a number Krall also expects could change as economic circumstances of families change.

Some families whose children ate lunch and breakfast previously have also indicated their circumstances are such that they don’t need the program.

“We’ve our families to let us know if their situation does change,” Krall said.

And if this was a normal school time, the program would take in donations of foodstuffs from a wide-ranging support network built up over the years.

But with the school closed to the public, that’s not now possible so the school district itself is covering expenses, Krall said.

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