Serving Greater Vancouver & the Fraser Valley

Starfish backpack program

by Debbie Cazander


For children from families struggling with a financial need, the end of the school week can often mean the beginning of a weekend of not having enough to eat. During the week many schools routinely  provide such children with one or two  nutritious meals each day, thanks to in-school programs, but with no school on the weekend children may miss out on sufficient food and return to school on Mondays hungry and not in the best form to learn.

Abbotsford Food Bank Executive Director Dave Murray had already done some research into weekend back-pack programs being done in the U.S., when he was asked by a local teacher “if there was anything we could do to help.” The teacher had witnessed first hand how very hungry some children came to school in the morning. The initial idea coupled with the teachers request was the impetus that set the Starfish Pack Program in motion. After Murray spoke at a Rotary meeting  the program gained momentum. What began with the Food Bank helping six to 10 children during the 2012/2013 school year  quickly grew to supplying 213 children from 14 Abbotsford schools with a filled back-pack each week.

The Abbotsford Rotary Club, under the leadership of Bruce Beck, director of Community Service, provided initial key funding to expand the program, which in turn soon drew the interest and support of area businesses, individuals, non profit groups and local churches; Hillcity (formerly Abbotsford Christian Assembly), Gateway Community, Northview Community and Ross Road Community churches.

Christy Boulter, coordinator for the Starfish program at HillCity Church shares:  “We feel like this is the sort of work that the church is called to do.  It’s our responsibility as the Church to look out for those in need and do whatever we can to meet the needs we see around us.” She says they have a crew of 17 volunteers who provide backpacks for 56 elementary school children.  “Packing these backpacks is a way for us to show love, with no strings attached to 56 kids and their families. That, in itself, is worth the money spent and energy expended. We love this program and are honored to be a part of it.”

On the eastern outskirts of Abbotsford is Barrowtown Elementary School. A small country school on Sumas Prairie, where six children receive pack bags. With the generous support of First Choice Transformations business owner Charles deBoer, who has pledged to provide the financial backing, and the support of the local Coopers Foods,  five ladies who attend the same church take turns shopping for and filling the back- packs each week.

One volunteer recounted the excitement of a small girl as she realized that “today is the day” she would be receiving her backpack. The extra food contained in the pack brought home each Friday has become a blessing for the entire family as it allows for a bit more food for everyone.

The cost of providing the weekend back-pack for one child for a school year is $525. This includes two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners and some snacks,  with more given for long weekends.

Although many children and their families have been blessed with the Starfish program, there are more children who would benefit from this support.  According to Murray, “The staggering fact is we know that there are another 200 kids in Abbotsford, identified by the school district, who need the Starfish support.  It is only resources that hold us back.  We also know that there are over 4,000 children in Abbotsford who are living in poverty.”

For those who are interested in offering support Murray asks for people to “Pray for the kids in the Starfish program.” He would also love to see more churches becoming involved and says that “the churches who are engaged now are beyond amazing by giving us volunteers and some financial support.”

The program first known by the name Blessings in a Backpack, has since the beginning of this current school year changed its name to the “Starfish Pack Program.” The inclusion of the word Starfish is in reference to the parable of the young child diligently  tossing beached starfish back into the ocean after a storm, despite the misgivings of others as being a hopelessly impossible task. To one such naysayer the child replies with “I made a huge difference to that one!”

Likewise the people, groups, businesses and churches who work to promote the program, raise funds, purchase groceries, fill back-packs and deliver them also believe they are making a huge difference to each child who receives a weekly back pack and his or her family.

To help with the Starfish Pack program to children or for more information, please contact the Abbotsford Food Bank at  604-859-5749.

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