The Airdrie Food Bank is helping to feed hungry kids this summer, which is a time when many who rely on school lunch programs for sustenance go without.
The local non-profit organization offers snack packs through the Canada-wide After the Bell program to cope with the disappearing after-school food programs, as children head off on summer vacation.
This will be the second summer the Airdrie Food Bank has participated in the after-school program, according to Lori McRitchie, executive director of Airdrie Food Bank.
“After the Bell is an initiative that’s run by Food Banks Canada that supports children in the summer all across the country. It’s one of their biggest programs,” McRitchie said.
“[Food Banks Canada] put together the packs and then they send them out to food banks across the country and each food bank that receives the After the Bell pack has the ability to send them out,” she added.
The After the Bell packs are given out to families who participate in the Airdrie Food Banks hamper and pantry programs.
As part of the hamper program, a hamper provides enough food for seven to 10 days and contains a balanced variety of fruits, vegetables, milk, bread, and meat. Those in need of a food hamper can register online at bit.ly/3b5VM8w. The After the Bell packs are automatically given to families with children collecting a food hamper.
The pantry program offers a drop-in service where residents can collect essential food items they may be missing, such as bread and milk. While the hampers are bundles containing pre-determined foods, those seeking the pantry option can pick and choose which items they need. When using the pantry service, Airdrie parents can also collect an After the Bell pack.
The packs contain different school-like snacks, as well as some perishable items, such as grapes or apples, McRitchie said.
She added the food bank was concerned they were missing community members by only offering the After the Bell program in one location in the city, so the organization decided to reach out to various community organizations and parks.
“We really felt we were perhaps not meeting the needs of people who might not come to the food bank, who might still find that that’s uncomfortable for them or don’t know about us,” McRitchie explained. “So we decided this year to do a pilot project and go out in the parks in the community and hand out the packs.”
Not only does the food bank supply the After the Bell packs but they are also offering a free sandwich lunch for those visiting the park, complete with yogurt or cheese and a drink.
On July 19, volunteers from the food bank handed out approximately 70 lunches and 45 After the Bell packs. The next park pop-up will be held at the Chinook Winds Regional Park on August 9.
“One of the great things about food banks is that, in every community, they operate a little bit differently because each community is different,” McRitchie said.
She added Airdrie is a family-centred community and a lot of people seeking the food bank’s help are struggling families.
“The amount of children that access our programs is higher than the national average,” she said. “We right now are seeing 44 per cent of our hamper recipients are children.”
During the school year, the food bank supports these families by hosting in-school breakfast, lunch, and snack programs. However, children do not have access to these programs during the summer.
“We wanted to make sure the kids are being fed…our outreach is about awareness, about getting people to know that we’re here and that we can help them,” McRitchie added.
Those in need can visit the Airdrie Food Bank located at 20 East Lake Way. The food bank is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. till 4 p.m., and until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“We’re all in this together,” McRitchie said. “Airdrie is an awesome, caring community that really supports its neighbours.”