It’s not news that the rising cost of food is putting a strain on families across our region. Josée-Anne Rouleau, who organizes the Similkameen Starfish Pack program, is all too aware of that impact. “For the 2022/23 school year, we successfully raised $10,000 from our community to support the program,” says Josée-Anne. “Unfortunately, the rising cost of food and increased demand for our packs means that we constantly have to fundraise.”
Now in its fourth year of operation, Similkameen Starfish Pack provides food for children to take home over the weekend, to help keep them fed until the start of the next school week. Students from Cawston Primary School and Similkameen Elementary Secondary School are identified by the schools’ administrators as coming from families struggling to make ends meet.
At the time of applying to the Foundation in October 2022, 15 families were part of Similkameen Starfish Pack. By the end of the school year in June, that number had nearly doubled to 28 families. In October 2023, that number had risen to 38 families – more than double the previous year’s total. It’s a stark reminder of the growing challenge of keeping food on the table in these difficult economic times.
The program operates out of the offices of the Lower Similkameen Community Services Society. Menus for the packs are created 4 weeks in advance, and food orders are communicated to staff at the local Buy Low in Keremeos. Volunteers work Wednesday and Thursday to prepare the packs for distribution. Healthy food is a priority, with cost a balancing factor. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always included, and Cawston Cold Storage provides donated fruit when it is available. Packs that are distributed before a long weekend contain additional food for the extra day away from school.
Josée-Anne acknowledges that the program is a band-aid solution and that deeper strategies to combat the growing issue of hunger in the Similkameen are required. “We’re hopeful that one day programs like ours won’t be needed,” she says. “Until that time, we’ll keep working to ensure all our schoolchildren in the Similkameen have access to healthy and nourishing food. We may not be able to fix everything, but we hope to make a noticeable difference in the lives of those that we help.”