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Easter bags going to kids from Bowls of Hope

Rich Popham (right) and other volunteers fill hundreds of Easter bags with fruit, juice, candy and chocolates for children as part of the Bowls of Hope program at Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre on Monday.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Rich Popham (right) and other volunteers fill hundreds of Easter bags with fruit, juice, candy and chocolates for children as part of the Bowls of Hope program at Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre on Monday.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Thousands of hot lunches are served to hungry school kids in Chilliwack every year in the Feed the Children program put on by Chilliwack Bowls of Hope Society.

About 600 Easter bags were being filled by volunteers on Monday with fresh fruit, juice and chocolate treats, to go along with the nutritious lunches heading to the schools.

Program volunteers and offenders work out of the kitchen of the Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre on Rowat Avenue getting the soup and sandwiches ready for lunchtime transport.

The Bowls of Hope coordinators say that a whopping 120,000 hot lunches were ladled out with love in 16 Chilliwack schools in 2013.

“I do presentations and find people are in disbelief that there are hungry children in almost every school in Chilliwack,” said volunteer coordinator Cindy Waters for Fraser Valley Community Corrections.

She started as a volunteer delivering soup in the Feed The Children program and now coordinates the broader efforts of a network of volunteers for Corrections.

How does she describe Bowls of Hope to someone who doesn’t know what they do?

“It’s people in the community who care about children,” she said.

The Feed the Children program began humbly in 2005, feeding more than a dozen school kids. It has grown exponentially since then with 50 volunteers now committed to keeping it going, with several corporate sponsors.

“It’s very rewarding to volunteer because they see the value in what we are doing, and they want to make sure the program continues. They are willing to do whatever it takes.”

They even tend a vegetable garden on-site for soup and sandwich ingredients, and the Local Harvest Farm Market is also supplying fresh produce.

At the heart of the effort there is keen recognition that nutrition and healthy food play crucial roles in giving school kids the very best shot they can get at having a good life, starting by being successful in school.

“For a lot of people at the Correctional Centre, that was them, the kids who come to school hungry every day. If we can keep just one child in school because their belly is full and they can concentrate, we will have succeeded.”

One of the centre’s residents once told her that if he had been offered a hot lunch every day when he was a kid, he might not have ever ended up in jail.

The feedback from teachers is very encouraging, as the children tell them how much they enjoy the soup, or the wieners and beans.

There’s a recipe collection used in the kitchen centre where they’ve amassed recipes for 20 types of delicious soup that they can make to ladle up a different one every day. There is no overhead for the program, and each bowl of soup works out to about 33 cents.

Their biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up shortly, with a goal of raising $50,000. As in the past, all proceeds go directly to feed the children of Chilliwack who go to school hungry.

Bowls of Hope Dinner/Auction, May 2, Squiala Community Centre, 5:30 p.m., tickets $40 or table of 8 for $300.

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