by Sandy Casselman
House of Lazarus (HOL) is helping local schools tackle weekend hunger. HOL launched its Operation Backpack program January 18. The new outreach initiative provides students in need with a supply of food to help them through the weekend. Each Friday, HOL delivers bags of food items to participating schools. School representatives then distribute the bags to participating students.
HOL client services manager, Kim Merkley, and HOL executive director, Cathy Ashby, first heard of the concept during an Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) conference. After contacting several local schools, it was determined there is a definite need for this service in this area. Operation Backpack was made possible through a Rural Kids Grant from OAFB, with funding from Monsanto.
“Food insecurity is a reality for many families,” Cathy Ashby said. “While some schools are able to offer breakfast or snacks for students throughout the week, there is no system in place to address the hunger needs of students over the two-day weekend. Families using the food bank receive a supplemental supply of food, but this is not always enough. Operation Backpack is our way of addressing this hunger gap.”
HOL is currently partnering with three local schools, one each in North Dundas, South Dundas, and North Grenville. There are currently 111 students receiving the food packages each week. HOL staff purchase the needed food items, while a group of volunteers from Hallville United Church help pack the weekend bags every Thursday afternoon. An HOL staff member then delivers the food to the participating schools Friday morning.
Cathy said response from the first and second week of the program has been positive with accolades coming from both the recipients and school officials. In fact, following the second week, three new families were added to the program. One student has begun referring to the weekly package as the Friday Surprise Bag.
One of the local principals noted Operation Backpack is “a great partnership that shows communities working together, better known as educare.” Another said families have been very appreciative.
House of Lazarus is a food bank and outreach mission located in Mountain, serving hundreds of clients from surrounding communities, including all of Dundas County, Grenville County and South Ottawa. Last year, 600 people were fed through HOL’s food bank, while 2,630 people were provided with food, clothing, furniture, and household
goods through its outreach programming. A community-supported venture, House of Lazarus does not rely on government funding. It’s through HOL thrift stores, grants, donations, and fundraisers that its projects and programs happen.
For more information on this or other House of Lazarus projects, please visit www.houseoflazarus.com or follow the mission on Facebook.