HOL addressing weekend hunger with new outreach program, operation backpack

House of Lazarus Food Bank launched Operation Backpack January 18. This new outreach program delivers a weekend package of food for students in need at three local schools, one each in North Dundas, South Dundas, and North Grenville. Volunteers Beth Pinch (left), Ian Bufton, and Richard Christie are pictured packing the bags at Hallville United Church in preparation for the February 1 drop-off. (Submitted/Courtesy photo)

MOUNTAIN— House of Lazarus is helping local schools tackle weekend hunger.

HOL launched its Operation Backpack program January 18.

The new outreach initiative provides students in need with a supply of food to help them through the weekend.

Each Friday, HOL delivers bags of food items to participating schools. School representatives then distribute the bags to participating students.

HOL client services manager Kim Merkley and HOL executive director Cathy Ashby first heard of the concept during an Ontario Association of Food Banks conference.

After contacting several local schools, it was determined there is a definite need for this service in this area.

Operation Backpack was made possible through a Rural Kids Grant from OAFB, with funding from Monsanto.

“Food insecurity is a reality for many families,” Ashby said. “While some schools are able to offer breakfast or snacks for students throughout the week, there is no system in place to address the hunger needs of students over the two-day weekend. Families using the food bank receive a supplemental supply of food, but this is not always enough. Operation Backpack is our way of addressing this hunger gap.”

HOL is currently partnering with three local schools, one each in North Dundas, South Dundas, and North Grenville. There are currently 111 students receiving the food packages each week.

HOL staff purchase the needed food items, while a group of volunteers from Hallville United Church help pack the weekend bags every Thursday afternoon. An HOL staff member then delivers the food to the participating schools Friday morning.

Ashby said response from the first and second week of the program has been positive with accolades coming from both the recipients and school officials. In fact, following the second week, three new families were added to the program. One student has begun referring to the weekly package as the Friday Surprise Bag.

One of the local principals noted Operation Backpack is “a great partnership that shows communities working together, better known as educare.”

Another said families have been very appreciative.

House of Lazarus is a food bank and outreach mission located in Mountain, serving hundreds of clients from surrounding communities, including all of Dundas County, Grenville County and South Ottawa.

Last year, 600 people were fed through HOL’s food bank, while 2,630 people were provided with food, clothing, furniture, and household goods through its outreach programming.

A community-supported venture, House of Lazarus does not rely on government funding. It’s through HOL thrift stores, grants, donations, and fundraisers that its projects and programs happen.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.