SOUTH RIVER – Almaguin Highlands Secondary School students are using the on-site food bank to combat the stigma of poverty.
The AHSS food bank received $5,000 in funding from the District recently.
“There are probably more kids using (the food bank) than we know, but they’re embarrassed,” explained Grade 9 student Nathan Nykor. “If more people use it, then people won’t feel singled out.”
Nykor is a student member of the committee heading up the food bank, which is set up within the school.
According to teacher Lisa Rogers, 42 students used the food bank last month. But she said the numbers are likely a lot higher over the winter months.
“We’re not just providing food for students, it’s for their families too, and we have a lot of seasonal employees out there that need more support during the winter because of layoffs,” she said, noting some families are just getting by and can’t always afford to send their kids to school with a lunch or need help providing food for the whole family. Offering support with groceries takes some of the financial strain off.
It is estimated the school’s food bank costs up to $1,000 each year to operate, which is acquired through donations.
This year, the program received a $5,000 boost from the District of Parry Sound Social Services Board as part of the Ministry of Community and Social Services Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program.
“We heard about the program through our principal Lisa O’Kane, so we had two of our awesome Grade 9s write a proposal,” said Rogers.
Nykor and fellow student Sydnee Wiggins wrote a proposal requesting funds to help provide food for students to eat throughout the day, as well as take home to their families.
The funding was presented to the food bank on April 12.
Using the funding, the committee purchased a refrigerator, so that healthful and fresh foods could be offered, including fruit, vegetables, yoghurt and full frozen dinners.
“We had some kids eating six granola bars for lunch because that’s all we had,” said Rogers. “It makes a big difference being able to eat a full hot meal.”
The program also provides food vouchers for the cafeteria and supplies students in need with athletic equipment, clothing, personal hygiene supplies, and even funds to cover class trips.
Also included in the students’ proposal to the social services board was a big celebration this coming November to spread word of the success of the program. Students in the school’s business and marketing program are currently putting together ideas for the promotion of the event and the activities to be held during.
“We want to celebrate how well the food bank is doing and get everyone involved, so that more people will be comfortable using it,” said Nykor.
Program coordinator Emily Bolduc, who works at the school as a child development counselor, said the school’s food bank would have suffered if this funding hadn’t been received.
“We were definitely going to struggle,” she said. “This program raises awareness and brings the students together. There are a lot of families in need, some without hydro or running water. This really helps them out.”
At the end of the school year, any food left over at the school is donated to local food banks.
“We’re not trying to compete with other food banks, but just try to supplement them,” said Rogers. “If the kids can come in on the bus during the school year and pick the food up here, that means the family doesn’t have to drive into town to go to the food bank.”
The committee noted receiving significant funding from the Sundridge Women’s Hockey Team “Chaos”, as well as from the Magnetawan Lions Club.
Any donations of gently used clothing, footwear, outerwear, food items or funds are greatly appreciated.
Anyone interested in helping out can call Emily Bolduc at 705-472-5563, ext. 8185.