Every week The Salvation Army in Red Deer, Alta., helps 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.

Happy Friday

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,” she says. “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.”

Rikkeen’s family has struggled financially since the passing of her partner’s father whom 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 to last her the whole weekend.

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

Needed Assistance

The backpack meal program has been in place since 2014 and 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 the bags, which are 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 ensures that the support goes to families who need it most.

 "It’s good to know that we have been able to fill that gap for the students that need this assistance.” TAYLOR POOR

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

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.

“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 says.

Juan Romero is the staff writer/news media relations specialist at The Salvation Army’s territorial headquarters in Toronto..

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