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Starfish program in Kamloops adapts to pandemic

The Starfish Pack Program will be breaking with tradition in 2020, distributing food in new reusable bags each week rather than in backpacks

It is one of a handful of changes being made to the program due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What is not changing, though, is the program’s commitment to helping feed local children who are struggling with food security.

“You almost can’t believe that a child is going home to no food in the cupboard and that really does happen,” said Bernadette Siracky, executive director for the Kamloops Food Bank.

Backpacks will still be going out to the students covered by the program, but they will be stuffed full of back-to-school supplies and will not be sent back each week.

Siracky said this will help reduce the chances of contamination between the food bank, the schools and the homes.

Two other major changes happening behind the scenes involve the number of volunteers able to work at packing up the food bags, as well as the process for doing so.

Restrictions on the number of people who can safely congregate has meant that instead of the number of volunteers in the food bank warehouse will be limited.

A pod-based model has also bee developed for filling the bags, in which each volunteer works in an isolated area, or pod, filling a bag with all of its contents and then signaling for another volunteer to come and deliver the bag to a larger container.

This replaces the previous system that functioned more like an assembly line and allowed for more potential contamination.

Though the changes have meant that the Kamloops Food Bank cannot support as many volunteers as it has in the past, Siracky said the changes have been necessary to keep the program operating — which, she noted, is the most important aspect.

“It’s proven effective here at the food bank, the changes we’ve made, because we’ve been able to offer service uninterrupted,” she said. “And our clients are so grateful. The common comment to me and to our staff is just, ‘Thank you. Thank you for remaining open.’”
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