Four Yellowknife schools will have plenty of weekend meals to distribute to children and families up to the end of the school year after a major food drive was held at the Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op, Saturday.
Yk Cares, a charity organization working under the Yellowknife Food Bank, organized the Fill the Net food drive that involved the Subway Bantam Development hockey team and the St. Patrick High School Interact Club.
Volunteers from both organizations helped pack kits on Feb. 18 and sold the food to Saturday grocery store customers for hungry students.
Developed in 2015, Yk Cares prepares weekend meals kits for schools on a biweekly basis throughout the school to ensure all students have access to weekend meals and snacks.
The prepared kits on Saturday sold for $12.99 and included two cans of chicken and rice soup, two fruit cups, two packages of instant noodles, two granola bars, two packets of Gold Fish crackers, one package of juice mix, and two snack pack Hot Rods.
Robyn Coleman, coordinator with Yk Cares said that 940 kits had been packed with the goal of selling all of them to meet demand among the four schools leading up to the end of April. As of Sunday afternoon, all were sold with the assistance of corporate donors.
Canadian Tire Yellowknife donated $1,000 for the effort while Yellowknife Beverages purchased 100 food kits and will be providing transportation of the kits to the schools.
Lillith Brook, who initiated the hockey team’s involvement with Yk Cares this year said that coaches and parents have tried to place a strong emphasis on the need for 13- and 14-year-old players to give back to the community in the form of volunteer service.
Because of the lack of travel associated with Covid-19 public health restrictions this year, there has been more time to find ways to help others, she said.
The players were involved in accumulating used hockey gear in an equipment drive for budding hockey players in Fort Good Hope in December. That has since spread to two other communities, Fort Providence and Tulita, due to the volume of donations.
Food bank demand has ‘doubled’
Brook said helping pack food for the less fortunate seemed like an easy way for the team to contribute to a community need and was something that they had been involved with in the past.
“Two years ago, this same team was exposed to the Yk Cares program of the food bank to give the meal kits to distribute to kids in need,” Brook said.
“When I reached out to the food bank again this year they said the demand had doubled.”
Brook said she thinks there has been a higher amount of hunger in the schools since the pandemic.
“The idea is that – unfortunately – there are kids in the schools that are being supported during the week with meals in many instances through the schools,” she said.
“But when they go home on the weekends they are in a situation that either they are not able to prepare food or there is not enough food. The meal kits allow young people to make meals themselves.”
Chris Silzer, the St. Patrick High School teacher lead for the Interact Club, said the school service club has been working closely with Yk Cares since the beginning of this year. Every week students volunteers help prepare kits that routinely go out to other students in need.
She has seen first-hand the impact Covid has had on students’ ability to access food.
“I think from what I have seen as a teacher that there are families who have lost jobs or who can’t work or who have to work from home and have limited employment,” she said. “That trickles down for the need to support families. The Food Bank and Yk Cares provides extra support for those students who just can’t quite get enough food.”
The weekend kits regularly help hundreds of students who benefit from daily breakfast and lunch programs at the school, she said.
Silzer said the ability for students to help students is a big positive in the club’s volunteer work this year.
‘It is their peers that they are helping’
“We love it because all of these students are caring and this is something that is tangible to get involved with because it is their peers that they are helping,” she said. “So in that way it is meaningful for them.”
Jenny Reid, principal at Weledeh School said in an email that the amount her school requests through the program varies week to week but agrees that since the pandemic, there has been additional need.
“Since Covid has put an extra strain on families, we have seen an increase in requests for support,” she said in a Feb. 22 email to Yellowknifer.
“(Yk Cares) is a great organization who support us every week by providing us with weekend food bags for our students. They are incredibly appreciated by our families.
“It is a great way to ensure the kids we support with snacks and lunch during the week have support on the weekends.”
Reid said that the kits allow students to easily access food when they aren’t in school.
“The food items are things which can easily be prepared and accessed,” she said. “They even give little special treats around holidays and the kids really like these.”