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Food initiative Backpack Buddies celebrates 10 years of supporting thousands

The initiative has been offering weekend meal aid for 10 years, saving families from all over BC.

One North Shore woman had a special reason to celebrate Backpack Buddies on its 10th birthday this weekend. The organization, she says, has helped her "more than they could ever understand."  

On Saturday the food-focused charity celebrated 10 years of providing weekend meals to children in need, with Francis, whose middle name has been used to protect her anonymity, being just one in a sea of grateful parents.

"Before Backpack Buddies I was relying on food banks," she says, explaining how, with no personal transit, she would have to walk long periods in summer's searing heat to reach them with her five-year-old daughter in tow. In winter they would queue up outdoors, braving the inclement weather.

"The program has helped me in so many ways, it has taken so much worry and anxiety off."    

Over the past 10 years, Backpack Buddies has mushroomed from a small local charity to a provincewide organization that works with more than 450 schools and community centres, supporting up to 4,500 children every week. 

“I think I always dreamed that we would be able to grow the organization and have a really big impact, but I didn’t expect anything on this scale,” says Emily-Anne King, who founded the North Vancouver company back in 2012 with her mother, Joanne Griffiths. 

King, who marked the decade-long anniversary with a small celebration at Backpack Buddies HQ on Saturday, said it is moving accounts like that of Francis and her daughter that make the whole endeavour worthwhile.  

She reminisces on a conversation once had with a seven-year-old student, who told her that prior to signing up with Backpack Buddies she would often go all weekend surviving off nothing but water. 

“This story is one of many that really illustrates the issue at hand. A lot of people really don’t realize the severity of food insecurity in our province, but in fact it’s very real and all across British Columbia," says King. 

Not only is it widespread, but with the continuous rising cost of living, the food crisis issue is only becoming more severe. King goes on to add how the organization has seen more requests and more need than ever before. 

“It’s really alarming," she says. "We’re trying to just do everything we can at the moment." 

Student Peter Sanders and his partner Lauren have been struggling with the "prices going up non-stop," with Sanders saying he is "especially grateful" Backpack Buddies can help nourish their two daughters, Adara, nine, and Thalia, eight, at a time when they are especially feeling the pinch. 

Francis says that the mother-daughter duo behind Backpack Buddies goes above and beyond, and then some.

"It's their little touches that make it so special" she says, explaining how packs are often filled with extra treats over Easter, candy before Halloween and special activity packs to keep young ones busy. 

For Francis' daughter's birthday last year, the initiative partnered with a local restaurant to ensure she had a birthday meal and cake. Francis was "blown away," and says that writing a thank-you message to Backpack Buddies would be like "writing an essay."

Yet for King it's all in a days work, and the bar can only be raised. There are hopes to help on an even larger scale, to expand her network of partners and to curate better, healthier, more beloved food bags.

“I never imagined that in 10 years we would be here, so 10 years from now it’s hard to even comprehend,” she says. “I hope we’re helping tens of thousands of children by then.”