Doris Walton is overwhelmed an idea she brought home from Ontario has been so successful, but she’s not prepared to rest on her laurels.
Last year, after coming home to Amherst after 47 years working in Ontario, Walton learned how hungry some young children in the Amherst area were.
The After the School Bell Food Program was born and after one successful year at West Highlands Elementary, Walter and her team of volunteers are already planning for September and the start of a new school year with the addition of a second school to the program – Spring Street Academy.
“The first year went amazingly well. Today we delivered the last of 856 bags of food to West Highlands School and next year we’ll be delivering food to that school again and we’re adding Spring Street Academy,” said Walton, who was joined by a group of volunteers at their pantry at the Amherst Centre mall on June 21 to prepare the final delivery.
Soon after coming back to Amherst, Walton organized a fill the tent promotion for the Amherst Food Assistance Network at the Amherst Artisans Gallery and Market. As part of that, she issued a challenge to the area’s three elementary schools to see which school could provide the most food.
She found all the schools couldn’t participate though because in some cases there just wasn’t enough food at home to spare. She spoke to the Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education and area principals and learned just how bad the situation was for some families.
After speaking to a friend in Ontario who runs a food bank, she began planning and launched a pilot project from September to December at West Highlands.
“Not all families have difficulty, but some families do. They’re trying their best but there are situations where both parents are working minimum wage jobs and they can’t keep up with the increasing price of food,” she said. “There just isn’t enough money to go around and then you have to pay rent and pay for your power and heat.”
Each Friday, volunteers from the After the School Bell Program took 25 bags of food to West Highlands, which were distributed to students to take home with them. Items in the students bags include peanut butter, cereal, oatmeal packets, Pop Tarts, granola bars, apple sauce, fruit cups, puddings, Jello, canned soup and past, crackers and Kraft Dinner as well as fresh fruit.
Walton said it costs approximately $16,400 to provide the 25 food bags over 41 weeks. The 25 bags each week cost around $400.
Volunteer Rachelle Dowe said there are food programs at the schools that help feed children during the school week, but it’s the weekends when things are difficult.
“There’s a food program during the week when the kids are in school, but it’s the weekends when the kids go home. They’re coming back to school hungry on Monday morning,” Dowe said. “That’s the gap. Fed students have better behaviour and can learn better.”
Next year, the program will continue providing 25 bags at West Highlands Elementary and will start with 10 bags weekly at Spring Street Academy.
Now that the program is over for the year, West Highlands vice-principal Molly Little is singing its praises.
“It’s nothing short of amazing. The program continues to be an amazing success for our school and for the children who have food security as a result of the program,” she said in an email. “The After the School Bell Food Program has provided students and families peace of mind, knowing that they have the extras they need to get through the weekend.”
Walton said community support has been tremendous and various churches have provided volunteer help while individuals and organizations have provided both food and money. She said she never would’ve been able to get the program off the ground without volunteers.
She would love to see a community sponsor come forward to support the program financially.
“We need community support. We need people who have money to come down to our level and realize the amount of hunger in Cumberland County. We have 25 per cent of our children living in poverty,” Walton said. “We have to continue doing something about that.”
Along with the pantry at the mall, there are drop boxes at Harrison’s Home Hardware, the Art of Rebellion Tattoo, Heather Trenholme Hairstyling and CANSA-Nova Scotia Works. The food collected over the summer will be used in the program in September.
The program has been helped by Highland Market that has donated fresh fruit throughout the school year.
Volunteer Steven Ripley said Walton deserves a lot of credit for introducing the program. He said it was a learning year.
“The first year was about raising awareness,” Ripley said. “Everything we’ve done is basically by word of mouth and we’re talking to a lot of people.”
People wishing to make financial contributions can contact Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 902-694-1607.