Strawberry sales and an evening of dining in Fort Langley are two ways that Langley Rotarians are helping feed hungry children in Langley through the Starfish program.
A man walked along a beach where thousands of starfish had been stranded by the outgoing tide, exposed to the hot sun. Ahead was a boy throwing something into the water.
Curious, the man approached the boy. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m saving the starfish,” said the boy.
“There’s far too many,” said the man. “You can’t possibly save them all.”
“No,” said the boy, “but I can save some.”
There are several variations of the story, but they all come down to basically the same thing: don’t be overwhelmed, do something.
Every day, about 3,000 children in Langley go to school hungry.
The reasons for their hunger are varied. A number of the children are from families that, for whatever reason, simply don’t have the resources to put enough food on the table.
Local Rotary clubs have joined forces with Langley’s United Churches and the Langley School District Foundation (LSDF) to feed as many of those children and their families as they can.
The Starfish Pack Program goes beyond the school breakfast and lunch programs available in many Langley schools.
It provides families with food through weekends, and gift certificates help carry them through extended school breaks such as summer holidays.
“Hunger doesn’t stop when school’s out,” said Susan Cairns of the LSDF, which has been coordinating the program for the past two years.
Families identified as especially needy are selected by principals and counsellors of participating school, and the children are sent home each week with backpacks stuffed with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food to last each of the 71 families in the program for a weekend.
Typical foods in the backpacks might be soups and stews, cereal, bagels, fruit, yogurt, and cheese sticks.
Langley Sunrise Rotary provides backpacks, and the United Church raises money to fill them.
Aldergrove Rotary handles Starfish packs and donations in their area.
The LSDF, which buys the food and coordinates distribution, also gets a hand from Save-On-Foods, which provides 15 per cent discount and free delivery of the food to secondary schools, where students fill the backpacks.
The church delivers the Starfish packs to the participating schools.
Cairns admitted some people don’t think schools should be involved in feeding hungry children.
But she countered, “It is the job of schools to teach, and you can’t teach kids if they’re hungry.”
Johnson questioned how children are expected to learn while their thoughts are focused on when their next meal might come from.
The benefits of the Starfish program go beyond just feeding the kids and their families, said Wix-Brown Elementary principal Scott Johnson.
Johnson and Cairns both pointed to improved grades, better behaviour, and overall improvements in performance when the students are fed.
When the kids come to pick up their backpacks, Johnson added, “It’s another reason for them to be coming to school.”
He said some of the kids’ parents “may have had a negative experience when they were in school,” adding that the extended helping hand “is a positive experience for those parents.”
Johnson said the program represents “so many layers of the community coming together.”
He pointed out that the backpacks destined for his school are the result of cooperation between the United Church, Rotary, and the school district. The packs are assembled by Brookswood Secondary students who give up their lunch hour to the effort.
When students at his school heard about the program, they quickly got on board.
“They like to help bring the packs in [to the school] when the driver arrives,” said Johnson. “It makes them feel good to be helping, it gives them a sense of pride.”
It’s clear Johnson is proud of his school’s involvement in the Starfish program, and in its success.
He spoke of a family that came in to thank him last year – and to tell him they didn’t need the backpacks anymore. They had got back on their feet, and wanted their backpack to go to another family.
A great deal of volunteer effort powers the Starfish program, but money is needed, too. For example, it costs between three and four hundred dollars per week to fill the backpacks distributed to the 31 families from the four participating Langley schools.
Additional support has come from Langley Central Rotary and the Shewan Family Foundation.
Night of good food helps fundraiser for cause
Another fundraising effort is being undertaken with the help of Fort Langley food businesses.
A Taste of Fort Langley is being organized by Sunrise Rotary with support from Trading Post Brewing, Lelem, Fort Pub & Grill, Mangia e Scappa, and Eighteen 27.
The event takes place Tuesday, May 30, from about 5:30 to 8:45 p.m. Rotarians from the Langley Sunrise Club will guide five groups of about 30 people through each restaurant, for about 30 minutes each.
During the 30-minute stay, each restaurant has an opportunity to showcase itself.
Diners can expect a salad or similar fare at the first restaurant they visit, appetizers at the next three, and dessert at the fifth.
The Rotarians hope to raise at least $5,000 for Starfish and a similar program, The Weekend Fuel Bag, which was started by three high school students, sisters Katrina and Emma Schulz and their cousin Brad Lumsden, and now, like Starfish, is included under the LSDF’s Food For Thought umbrella.
Tickets for the Taste of Fort Langley event are $50 and can be had by calling Tom at 778-241-0046 or Dan at 604-250-5227.
Strawberries sales help, too
Also in the works by the Sunrise Rotary Club is their annual strawberry sale. Partnering with the Abbotsford Sumas Rotary club, they sell five and 13.5 kg pails of sliced strawberries. Orders must be in by Sunday, June 4, with pickup at the Army & Navy parking lot on June 10.
Prices and details at www.abbotsfordsumasrotary.org.
Money from local strawberry sales will be going to the youth food programs, that being the Weekend Fuel Bag, as well as the Starfish Packs.