Janine Hebert is overwhelmed with gratitude for all the donations her Isthmus program has received this fall, the most recent a $5,000 cheque from Bonnyville FCSS.
“That’s my program for one full year. I don’t have to worry about fundraising for two years. Which is huge for me. I don’t have to worry that we don’t have the funds to take on more kids,” said Hebert.
An isthmus is a piece of land which connects two parts. The isthmus program connects kids with food over the weekends when they don’t have school breakfast and lunch programs to rely on.
According to Hebert, she and her husband started the program seven years ago when it was still called ‘Blessings in a Backpack.’
“To bring the program to your community, you had to guarantee that you could support it completely for three years. So to establish it, what I had to do was guarantee that my husband and I had the money to fund the three full years, about $15,000. And the community just took over from there, they’ve supported it wholeheartedly,” said Hebert.
Now, there are approximately 36 kids from five different schools receiving food through isthmus. Hebert said every week she drops off however many bags are needed at the schools. Each bag has three breakfasts and two lunch options, some cups of fruit, a juice box and some snacks.
She noted she has also received cheques and food donations from businesses and people in the Bonnyville area and she’s incredibly grateful for even a single granola bar because it’s one she doesn’t have to buy.
“Usually there’s eight to twelve items in each bag. It’s not enough to last the entire weekend, but it’s probably a solid day and a half. We are assuming there’s at least something, at least a little bit at home,” said Hebert.
She said she works with the schools to determine who needs the support. Teachers watch their students and the secretaries at each participating school tell Hebert how many bags of food to bring each week.
“I don’t believe food is a privilege. It is a right. And there’s enough food in this world for everybody to eat. We aren’t solving food insecurity, but kids aren’t given a choice. So we’re trying to make the shoulders not so heavy. If a kid can’t eat, that brings up a lot of behavioral stuff because a hungry child is a grouchy child,” said Hebert.
She said the reason she does it is that she believes in the next generation, that they are going to change the world.
“I feel like these children who are on my program, I just see them growing up and just think of the things that they’re going to do for the community because they’re going to remember that one time, it didn’t used to be great. And they’re going to make a difference. And they’re going to help other kids that are like them. Because they’re going to remember what it was like to not have enough,” said Hebert.
Director of Bonnyville FCSS David Beale said they were pleased to be able to support the work of Isthmus.
“We also provided support to the rural schools in our region, in Glendon and Iron River and Ardmore,” said Beale.
He said they chose the school because that way they are able to help families with children and that they’ve also been reaching out to try to make sure they also help families whose children are not yet school aged.
“It’s in the spirit of the season. We support everyone doing what they can to help the less fortunate,” said Beale.