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Ag project funds now helping with home food shortages


One of the less-thought about services of a school is feeding students. While not the primary function of an educational institution, the reality is that sometimes students go to school hungry for one reason or another. Hungry students do not make for efficient learners, so schools often employ different food programs to help combat the effects of being food-insecure.
One of the consequences of students being shut out of school buildings is that these food programs are no longer available for students to take advantage of, yet the need often remains.
Therefore, the Swan Valley School Division (SVSD) is making use of a $20,000 grant received from the Kinsmen Club of Swan River earlier this year, by continuing to support students from families in need by providing them with food hampers and grocery cards.
The money was raised through an agricultural project called Feeding the Future, where proceeds of a crop grown specifically for this purpose last year was raised. The donation was intended to support food programs in the school division.
“We have worked on using gift cards for our local grocery store which worked with the Kinsmen project more so than food hampers,” said SVSD Superintendent Jon Zilkey. “We made this decision to make sure we could get resources to families who needed them and without having the capability in most schools to make suitable hampers, we decided on gift cards using the grant and other grants.
“However, SVRSS is looking at starting a food hamper program for its students in addition to the cards.”
While Zilkey didn’t know exactly how many families would be supported by this program, he was confident in saying that there are a significant number of people in need in the area and that the number is likely to only go up given the economic downturn in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every school has been designated a certain amount from the Kinsmen Ag Project to spend,” said Zilkey. “They also have food grants from the Department of Education and some of our schools have other grants from private companies that we are using.
“Some of our smaller schools have decided to give a small donation to every student and invited them to pay it forward as needed to those they think may need it. We have noticed a need within the Valley and we hope to be supportive of that.”
Zilkey added that, right now, the SVSD is trying to be supportive of all families within the school division who say they are in need.
“They have a lot going on and if we can relieve a bit of the food pressure at home, it is the least we can do,” he said. “We also do check-ins on our students and families to see how they are doing and have distributed cards when needed in this way.”
The majority of the gift cards are being distributed through the packages students’ families are picking up at their school every two weeks, and are being given specifically to those who have reached out to the school or have been in conversation with the school.
In the food hampers that are being prepared at the SVRSS, the following is being included:
• pasta and meat sauce with parmesan cheese;
• cold cuts, cheese, buns, fruits and vegetables;
• baked items; and
• a meal for about four to six people
In addition, Apple Schools is donating fresh vegetables and fruit to the Food for Students program being developed with Lorna Munro and Tammy Badowski to support students and families from the ESRSS as well as the division. Donations to the food bank are also being made by the ESRSS and the SVSD.
Benito School Principal Jocelyn Bender added that her school has been giving away ingredients that the school already had in stock for cooking projects, as well as purchasing fresh produce, non-perishables and making prepared food such as pizzas and soup.
“As a Benito School staff, it is our intention to support families in many ways,” said Bender. “Families have different needs; some are unemployed, some are working double shifts, and some are working away from home. Children are cared for by siblings, grandparents and working parents taking turns.
“With this in mind, not all families will be provided with the same supports, yet we are doing our best to help them all.”
Zilkey added that the school division wants to see these supports be a regular occurrence with the resources that they have.
“We are lucky to have organizations such as the Kinsmen and others doing this for our school community, and if we need to exhaust this grant and others, then we will find other ways to fund the food programs,” he said.
“I can think of no better use for this funding. There is no student who can be an engaged learner if they are hungry, and given the strain everyone is under, any small part our schools can do will help. I encourage those who need support to please reach out to their schools.”
Kinsmen Club of Swan River President Derek Shaw agrees that this is the best way to spend the dollars that came from the Kinsmen grant.
“School or no school, the students that need the help are still getting it,” he said.

Jeremy Bergen