High school food bank depot serves as blueprint

NANAIMO – Loaves and Fishes hopes a food depot at John Barsby Community School will serve as a blueprint for other schools.

Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank is hoping a student-only food depot at John Barsby Secondary School will serve as a blueprint for other schools.

The food depot program at the Nanaimo school provides hampers that provide food for children for the weekend.

“It’s not advertised to the public, though, because it’s a referral-based system with the school meal program leaders there, so the teachers know the intimate situations of each child and refer them to us, so we serve about 30 to 40 students at John Barsby every Friday,” said Alex Counsell, operations manager for Loaves and Fishes food bank.

Nanaimo is known as an area with high levels of child poverty and the food depot at the school began last May. While it is a pilot project, Counsell said the community food bank doesn’t plan to end the program.

“We’re not going to stop,” he said. “We’ve called it a pilot program just to figure out how we can duplicate this and replicate it into other schools as being the first one, so we’re certainly not going to get rid of this program because it’s working.”

Shannon Wilson, community school coordinator at John Barsby, said the food depot is one of many partnerships the school has – it also teams with the Nanaimo-Ladysmith Schools Foundation and Nanaimo FoodShare.

“Collaboratively through the counselling department at our school, we find out, either the student self identifies or the counselling staff might identify or approach a student that they believe might not have access to food,” said Wilson, adding there are many programs at the school that provide food for students.

“This was the need, where we knew that some of those students would then go Saturday and Sunday with no access to food in their homes, so we wanted to make these hampers available to the students to take home over the weekends,” Wilson said.

Having the depot at the school ensures students receive the proper amount of nutrition and are thus better prepared for their studies, according to Counsell.

“If kids don’t have the right nutritional requirements, they’re not going to be able to learn properly in school, they’re not going to sleep properly,” said Counsell, adding that eating is the No. 1 priority for students next to proper shelter.

“We’ve opened the John Barsby depot to try to address that,” he said.

Counsell estimates that about 200 to 250 people a week that access Loaves and Fishes are under the age of 18.