Backpack Meal Program Gives Parents Additional Support to Keep Their Children Fed

Mother and daughter hold food from backpack meal program

Every week The Salvation Army in Red Deer, Alta., has helped vulnerable families with food support through the Backpack Meal Program, where individual bags filled with meals and snacks are delivered to participating schools, and distributed to children enrolled in the program.

For Rikkeen Cardinal, the meal program has been a great support during this current period of inflation.

“We are very grateful for this Salvation Army program. A lot of families can’t afford what they used to buy, so this is truly a blessing for those parents that need a little extra help,” she said.

“A lot of families can’t afford what they used to buy.”

Rikkeen’s family has struggled financially since the passing of her partner’s father who they used to take care of. The loss of their family member as well as the reduction of household incomes forced Rikkeen and her partner to limit their grocery list and look for alternative resources that could help them make ends meet. This is when Rikkeen found out about the Backpack Meal Program from a social worker at her daughter’s school.

Every Friday, Rikkeen’s daughter, who is in Grade 3, brings home a bag with enough meals and snacks that last her the whole weekend.

“My daughter comes home and even shares it with her two brothers. My youngest sons know that every Friday their sister is bringing the goodie bag, so they look forward to it,” Rikkeen said.

The Backpack Meal Program has been in place since 2014. As of the first week of February 2023, it serves 247 students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 in the 25 participating schools in Red Deer. Every week Salvation Army staff and volunteers prepare each bag, which is delivered to the schools on Thursdays. On Friday, these bags are given to the students to take home for the weekend. Each bag includes a total of six meals and additional snacks.

According to Community Ministries Worker, Anita Fraser, since the program runs solely on donations, liaisons keep track of how each family is doing, and how their financial situation is progressing. This way it ensures the families that are in most need get the support they need.

“We feel blessed by the donations we receive. When we started piloting the program, I never thought it would grow this much, so it is a bit sad to see that the need is so strong, but it is also good to know that we have been able to fill that gap for the students that need this assistance,” added Taylor Poor, community ministries coordinator for The Salvation Army in Red Deer.

Rikkeen feels very thankful for the Backpack Meal Program. She says that without it, some sacrifices would have to be made to ensure her children get everything they need.

“It is good to know that we have been able to fill that gap for the students that need this assistance.”

“When you are a mom, you sometimes have to put some personal needs aside to ensure your children have what they need, so it’s nice when there is a bit of help available for parents like me to make a way,” she said.

According to a recent Salvation Army survey, 52 per cent of Canadians faced food insecurity challenges in 2022. Thanks to your generosity, The Salvation Army will continue to help millions of Canadians with food, housing, and other practical assistance.

By Juan Romero