VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – An organization dedicated to sending children home from school on the weekends with a bag full of food has seen a huge increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Backpack Buddies is now helping almost double the number of children it used to around Metro Vancouver and parts of Vancouver Island.
“Pre-COVID, we were helping 1,400 children a week,” Backpack Buddies co-founder and president Emily-anne King told NEWS 1130. “We are now at 2,500 a week since everything started. It’s huge, honestly, it has been such a tremendous change for us and growth.”
While the growth points to an urgent need now, King noted the surge doesn’t mean it wasn’t there before.
“It’s just really escalated during this time. So we’ve just done everything we can to ramp up what we do,” she said.
The organization fills each bag with eight to 10 meals, and also packs fruit and other snacks to last children through the weekend. King said the group puts the food “directly into the hands of the child at the end of the school day on Friday.
“The food that we provide is typically child-friendly and easily consumable, meaning if a child is six or seven years old, they’re able to prepare the food that we’ve given them by themselves, because that’s sometimes the case unfortunately,” she added.
“We have no guarantees, either, if what we’re sending home with them is going to be refrigerated or handled properly, so we’re really trying to provide as much nutrition as we can, but also being mindful of safety and making sure we’re giving them food we know they’re going to eat and enjoy.”
COVID-19 has impacted the organization’s operations in more ways than one. First, children are not in school at the moment, meaning it’s more difficult to get these bags to them.
However, King said Backpack Buddies is working with school districts to distribute the packages. The group is also doing home deliveries for some “high-needs” families.
“Just really pivoting as much as we can — I think that’s the name of the game right now for organizations all over, in all types of businesses,” she said.
Another issue the group is facing is a significant reduction in the number of people helping fill these bags.
“We are doing our best to meet the demand and the requests that come through the door,” King said. “But at this point, we’ve had to put sort of a stop on our expansion just because, logistically, it’s become a really big challenge.”
She explained Backpack Buddies has gone from 400 volunteers every month to just six staff members filling bags.
“And we’re doing almost double what we did before. So you can imagine the strain on our organization to get this done, but it’s too important to not do it. This isn’t an option — this work has to be done. We’re just trying to rise to the occasion and help as many children as we can through this time.”
Backpack Buddies, she described, is a “traditional charity” that is funded through fundraising events, private donors, community donations, and grant funding.
However, there’s always a need for more help. Due to safety issues, Backpack Buddies is unable to take on any volunteers to help fill bags, but if you want to help, you can make a $15 donation.
“It’s just $15 to feed one child sort of 10 meals, plus fresh food and snacks,” King said. “$15 goes a really, really long way, and we have great buying power. That’s the number one ask, is for that support so that we can keep ramping up and adding more children.”
You can donate to Backpack Buddies here.