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After the School Bell aims to feed hungry children

Doris Walton looks over some of the food that has been collected for the After the School Bell program that has started its second season by expanding from West Highlands Elementary to Spring Street Academy. Darrell Cole – Amherst News
Doris Walton looks over some of the food that has been collected for the After the School Bell program that has started its second season by expanding from West Highlands Elementary to Spring Street Academy. Darrell Cole – Amherst News - Darrell Cole

Program aims to provide food bags to students at two Amherst elementary schools

AMHERST, N.S. —

It has been often said that it takes a village to raise a child.

It’s a premise the After the School Bell Program is operating on as it expands its food program to a second Amherst elementary school.

A year after delivering 856 food bags to students at West Highlands Elementary School, the program is again delivering 25 bags weekly for that school and is adding at least 17 bags for Spring Street Academy.

“We’re starting with 42 bags, but we’re expecting it will increase as the need is identified,” program co-ordinator Doris Walton said. “West Highlands is established and last year showed the program is making a difference in the lives of the children. We decided after last year that we would look to expand the program to Spring Street Academy because the need is there as well.”

She said it could be expanded to 50 bags a week between the two schools. That comes with a cost.

“It’s about $1,000 a week and we’ve budgeted for $40,000 for the year,” she said.

Walton came up with the concept behind After the School Bell Program after coming back to Amherst in 2018 after spending 47 years working in Ontario. She soon learned how hungry some young people were and organized a fill the tent promotion at the Amherst Artisans Gallery in the Amherst Centre mall and challenged the town’s schools to participate.

After discovering some schools couldn’t participate in the promotion because it would take food away from the students, she proposed a pilot project for West Highlands from September to December that was launched publicly in January.

The bags include peanut butter, cereal, oatmeal packets, Pop Tarts, granola bars, apple sauce, fruit cups, puddings, Jello, canned soup and pasta, crackers and Kraft Dinner as well as fresh fruit.

“It’s hard to believe how expensive food is. When you buy a can of soup it’s over a dollar. We have a number of people who watch the flyers and if they see soup on sale they’ll buy a couple of trays,” she said. “I don’t buy unless it’s on sale.

It’s those items that are needed most and can be dropped off at the program’s pantry next to Tim Hortons in the mall on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while financial contributions can also be dropped off there. Donations of $10 or more will receive a tax receipt.

She said the decision to expand to Spring Street Academy was based on need.

“More than 25 per cent of children in Cumberland County live in poverty and both Molly (Little) and Kirk (Rioux) at West Highlands said before the program children were coming to school hungry and when they came to school hungry they were angry or distracted. Once the program started and we began taking 25 bags to the school each week they saw a big change,” Walton said. “It’s not that the families aren’t trying, but the wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. These people are working poor.”

Walton said there is complete confidentiality with the program. The schools decide who gets the bags based on need and they’re distributed discretely to avoid any stigma. Walton said people have come into the pantry to thank her and volunteers for their support.

“I’ve had people come in and thank me and they’re in tears because they’re trying so hard to make ends meet,” she said. “I tell them I don’t know who their children are because the schools accept the bags and give them to the children each week.”

One thing she is hoping is that those who can afford it to come down to the level of those who need help and provide some financial support.

“We’re not reaching the people who could help. A lot of people think they’re getting money and they don’t need help. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, but you have no right to criticize. When people walk into this place there’s no room for negativity.”

People can contact Walton at 902-664-1607 or by email at wrosie43@outlook.com if they would like to make a contribution.

Fact box

What’s needed:

Apple sauce cups

Canned pasta (398 ml)

Canned soup (284 ml)

Cereal (200-300 gram sizes)

Fruit cups

Granola bars

Juice boxes

Kraft Dinner

Oatmeal packs

Peanut butter (1 kg)

Pop Tarts

Jello cups

Pudding cups

Soda crackers

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