Kennebecasis Valley might not have the child poverty levels of Saint John, but a Quispamsis mom says families there are struggling, especially when students begin learning online with no access to school food programs.
As a volunteer and someone who takes a hands-on approach in the community, Amanda Rouse said she wanted to help the hundreds of kids in the valley who won't benefit from regular food programs when schools across the province shift to online learning on Jan. 11.
Students were originally supposed to head back to the classroom on Jan. 10, but with spiking COVID-19 case counts as Omicron became the dominant variant in New Brunswick last week, the province announced they would learn from home for two weeks.
To help cope with the upheaval caused by the change, Rouse launched a Facebook group called Kennebecasis Cares at the end of December. The aim is to collect non-perishables to give to families in need.
“There’s a bit of a stereotype of people who live in the valley that everyone’s got it all together and everyone in the valley is really well off and that’s just not the case,” she said. “Without the schools being there to provide some nutritious daily lunch and breakfast programs, they’re going to be struggling.”
The donated food will be distributed by members of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force, who, Rouse said have “their finger on the pulse of where our biggest needs are in the community.”
Those looking to help can contact her via the Facebook page. Rouse is still looking for more canned meats, mayo, butter, peanut butter, jam, mustard, lunch snacks (crackers and cookies), juice boxes, pasta, canned soups and cereal.
“I hope that people realize that everybody has the opportunity to make somebody’s life a little bit better every day,” she said. “I think it’s important that we take care of each other.”
Meanwhile, in Saint John, Erin Rideout, executive director of Saint John Inner City Youth Ministry, said the ministry will continue to run its Lunch Connection program, which provides meals to young people in schools and at community centres.
But the challenge of rapidly shifting COVID rules means the logistics of doing so are unclear. She said when students are learning at home, it's hard to know exactly how many families are in need and of what.
Next week, working with the St. John the Baptist/King Edward School in the city's south end, plans are in the works to distribute lunches. Volunteers are also putting together food packages in case families require additional nutritional support.
“Personally, I worry for the kids and families that need that extra support,” Rideout said. “I know that for some families, school is a critical piece of nutrition support. It’s disheartening that it’s still an issue in the province."
Rouse mentioned the same point. Young people without access to nutritious meals continue to be an issue, especially when school ends in the summer.
"Certainly, food security is one of the biggest things that comes up time and time again," Rouse said. "I wish that there were more programs in place for families that are struggling. It's a bigger issue than the decision to delay school and I hope this will prompt elected officials to really look at the child poverty in the province as a whole."
Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal