The bagged lunch program that has been preparing and delivering 700 meals each day to needy families in the Anglophone East School District got a big boost this week, but it's unclear whether it can continue over the summer.
Heather Stordy, community engagement coordinator with Anglophone East, said a recent CBC News report about the program and the people it serves struck a chord and that has led to many donations and offers of support.
"We've…had a number of people tell us, 'We had no idea how big the need is and what the need is out in the community,'" she said.
Andrew Trites, a partner with DNA Swag, is usually busy selling custom clothing and sportswear but during the pandemic his company has been selling face masks for both adults and children.
"We've pivoted pretty hard toward the masks and we've done quite well with it," he said. "We wanted to do something to give back to our community so this made sense…we're covering the bag lunches for the next four weeks."
Stordy and her partners, including the United Way of Southeastern New Brunswick and the Food Depot Alimentaire, were thrilled, saying the $2,500 donation "couldn't come at a better time."
There are four "hubs" in the Anglophone East School District, and while DNA Swag's donation will pay for lunches in one of the areas, Trites decided to challenge other local businesses who have so far "weathered the pandemic" to also step up.
Mike Robart, a partner with Grant Thornton was at the other end of that challenge, and said for him and his fellow partners it was "a quick yes."
"This one in particular with the partners at the office hit a chord with helping to support our youth and our children with basic needs," he said.
Grant Thornton is donating $5,000 to cover lunches for the next four weeks in hubs 2 and 3 of the district, and now Trites is hoping one more company will help out with the final hub.
"Please step forward and step up because they are going to try and continue this for the summer…there are 3,500 bagged lunches that go out a week. It's astronomical when you think about it," said Trites.
Future of lunch program unclear
Stordy says while the Anglophone East School District won't continue the bagged lunch program beyond June 19, community groups are working to "make sure food needs are met."
Mike Belong, principal at Moncton High School, wants to see "a sustainable plan" for the upcoming summer.
A group of teachers and educational assistants have been making sandwiches at his school every morning, and he said the level of need has been "eye-opening," even to him.
"It goes to show you how much the schools do during the year and we have to figure this food security thing out on a longer term basis because schools are an integral part of feeding our families," said Belong.
"Now that [our students] are out and we have to get the food to them — I'm really realizing that it's a bigger issue than I even thought."
United Way CEO Debbie McInnis is in talks with the Food Depot Alimentaire and other groups about what form a new program could take throughout the summer, with uncertainty expected to continue to impact food security.
Donations large and small
Krista Richard has been volunteering to deliver bagged lunches since March. She is a phys–ed teacher at Forest Glen School and said the more people find out about the program, the more people want to help.
She says with so many people home during the pandemic, it's important to share what's being done to help those in need.
"A lot of people don't even realize about the program," Richard said.
For her, the best story of the past two months came this week from a parent who has been receiving bagged lunches every day.
"He said, 'We were in bad shape for two months but we're finally on our feet again.'"
She said the father made a donation to the Food Depot Alimentaire, one of the key partners in the bagged lunch program.
Trites is confident that businesses and individuals will rise to the challenge and find a way to support families and children in need over the summer.
"We're known to be very gracious donators when the time comes and certainly now, as Principal Belong alluded to, the transition will be, what are we going to do over the summer to help these kids?" he said.
"When you can help out, you should."