Marcia Mahoney of Amsterdam Greenhouses with the cyclamen plants and Rotarian Aneke Boekhorst with the Grinch trees that are being sold in a fundraiser to support the Starfish Backpack program. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Selling Christmas flowers to feed Maple Ridge kids

Rotary Backpack program fundraiser on the grow

By buying a Grinch tree or other Christmas plant, you could help feed children in Maple Ridge.

More and more local children are bringing home a backpack full of food every Friday. The Starfish Pack program was brought to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows by the MeadowRidge Rotary Club, and last year, and has expanded rapidly. It began in September 2016 with 10 backpacks in one school, and the program is now distributing 69 backpacks weekly to seven local schools, said Meadowridge Rotary Club past president Ineke Boekhorst, the chair of the Starfish Pack committee.

“The backpacks are given to hungry kids in our own backyard, who according to principals, teachers or councillors are needing assistance with food over the weekends,” she explained.

“We are thinking the need is 150 to 175, across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows,” said Boekhorst, the estimates based on the fact they are in seven out of 20 schools, where the need was identified earliest.

At the present time, they aren’t looking for new children for the program, because the resources aren’t there to handle the demand yet.

Each backpack contains two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, snacks and three pieces of fresh fruit. That’s a lot of food, and stretched over a school year, the cost for each student to receive a backpack each Friday throughout the entire school year is $525.

Boekhorst acknowledged it is “only possible with the much appreciated assistance of many local community volunteers and businesses.”

She said the feedback from participating schools has been great – they report kids who have both improved attendance and concentration from receiving the most basic of supports.

“Food does wonders – when the kids are fed, their brains function much better,” said Boekhorst.

And she said they have had letters from families, passed through principals and back to Rotary, reporting how kids will take a backpack and share food with their siblings.

“It’s doing much more than we ever anticipated,” she said of the program.

Seeing the demand, Rotary found a way to get some packs to students during the summer, and are still looking at the logistics of continuing the service through summer and over long holidays.

Now they are selling Christmas plants to get more funding.

“Please help us to raise funding for this program; the need is considerably larger than we can accommodate right now,” said Boekhorst.

Buyers can purchase Christmas plants or donate directly towards this very worthwhile project, and www.starfishpack.com has all the information plus the opportunity to donate online. Every donation over $25 receives a tax receipt from the Friends in Need foodbank.

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