Students at the Alternative School Centre in Red Deer had access to snacks and take-out options when classes were being held in-person. ABW paid for these items. (Photo contributed)

Students at the Alternative School Centre in Red Deer had access to snacks and take-out options when classes were being held in-person. ABW paid for these items. (Photo contributed)

From winter clothing to lunches: A Better World is helping students in central Alberta

Student Wellbeing Program offers meals and food hampers

A non-profit program supporting Red Deer students with much-needed food and health services has been deemed a success.

A Better World Canada (ABW), an international development organization based in Lacombe, developed a Student Wellbeing program that has made a difference in the lives of many students at the Alternative School Centre in Red Deer.

When ABW learned the Grade 9 to 12 public school’s meal program was strapped for cash, it stepped into action. After all, it was looking to support local education projects.

In the fall of 2019, it started investing in this critical effort.

“When we got involved, the food was already being prepared by a hired cook,” says ABW co-founder Eric Rajah. “The students would all get involved, cook and eat together. Whatever was left after lunch, the students could pack up and take home.”

Then COVID-19 struck in early 2020, resulting in no sit-down meals at the school. Instead, hampers became the norm.

Stephen Pottage, district principal for 11 Red Deer public schools including the Alternative School Centre, said volunteers deliver monthly hampers, ranging in size from single-use to families of 12.

“We’re consistently providing complete meal and holiday hampers for 20 of our students and their families,” said Pottage.

A daily breakfast and lunch program, typically hot, is also provided to any student who comes in.

“Due to COVID, we’ve had to scale that back into single servings that kids can take with them,” says Pottage. “All that funding is coming from ABW as well.”

The school located in downtown Red Deer allows students to receive flexible learning in the midst of challenging circumstances.

With no mandatory attendance, these teens can learn at their own pace.

ABW’s dependable funding has been beneficial. Attendance has never been better because of the school’s food program created three years ago.

“The more we can get them in here, the better chance we have of getting them through their high school education,” says Pottage. “Anecdotally, I believe that kids are happier.”

The charity’s Student Wellbeing Program recently added free dental and eye care and services like massage. Eyeglasses have been donated.

“For the few that have accessed it so far, it’s been life-changing,” says Pottage.

ABW is also funding extracurricular activities.

“We are super, super excited about the opportunities that our kids will have,” says Pottage.

Students will also be eligible to receive gift cards for clothes and shoes.

“We’ve shifted to helping youth who are vulnerable and working with our local school systems at achieving educational success,” says Rajah.

This past winter ABW joined New Coats for Kids provided through Lacombe and District Family and Community Support Services.

Julie Stegmaier, director of operations and donor relations co-ordinator for ABW, said 65 children benefited through this program involving several community partners.

“It’s good to know that so many children in the community had warm, proper fitting winter clothing and it’s also good that we could assist with some of the financial difficulties that parents had, especially this past year with COVID.”

She also praised Reds Source for Sports for supplying the winter gear.

“I am glad we can help in the community,” says Stegmaier.

Many donors are keen to help in their own backyard, adds Rajah.

“Sometimes poverty is invisible in our communities. We have to be mindful of children struggling in our own community.”

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