Anyone who thinks one person can’t make a difference hasn’t met Rotarian Virginia Worcester.  A member of the Rotary Club of Qualicum Beach, Virginia was stunned to learn that every day, children in the communities of Oceanside are going hungry. While some schools have stepped up to offer breakfast, lunch and snack programs that are actively addressing this crisis, the weekend remains a difficult time for many families.
 
Virginia moved to Qualicum Beach in 1996, starting the “All I Want For Christmas” campaign a short year later in 1997. Through the campaign, families receive a Christmas hamper containing two weeks of food for meals during the winter break holiday.
 
The idea came to her through conversations with clients at her business, Borealis Hair Salon, many of whom worked with children at risk and lamented the lack of supports available for children, particularly during the holiday season.  Since those early conversations, the campaign has served approximately 500 children every Christmas.
 
But Virginia was on a roll!  Recognizing that the need extended far beyond the Christmas season, the idea for a weekend food program for children at risk began to form and, in consultation with School District 69, the Backpack Program was born.
 
The concept is simple: children at risk of weekend hunger receive a bag of food that is child-friendly, nutritious, non-perishable and easy to eat.  Each Backpack contains food that the children and family can easily assemble into six healthy meals. This helps ensure that children will have food over the weekend and return to school on Monday ready to learn.

The role of the School District is to identify families in need and liaise with Virginia in delivery of the program. This is done discreetly, ensuring privacy and maintaining dignity.  Other organizations and individuals in the community have also generously participated in the fundraising efforts which allow backpacks to be distributed weekly.  A donation of $575 will feed a family each weekend for a year.
 
The Rotary Club of Qualicum Beach is also an avid supporter, donating yearly to the program and helping to distribute backpacks to the schools.
 
Qualicum Beach Rotary President Jeff Frankford notes: “Virginia is a tireless volunteer who is dedicated to helping families and those less fortunate in our community. Her dedication and commitment are an inspiration to everyone involved in the Backpack Program.
 
The Rotary Club of Parksville AM became aware of the Backpack Program, just as they were completing fundraising for another project, renovations to the Words on Wheels “WOW” Bus.  With the Club’s support, the bus was back on the road again, now Covid-ready and able to offer early learning opportunities to local families throughout the pandemic.

Parksville AM Rotarians were eager to take on another project and were delighted to join forces with Virginia and their sister Rotary Club in Qualicum Beach, re-directing their fundraising efforts to the District 69 Backpack Program. 
 
After losing most of its fundraisers due to Covid-19, the Parksville AM Club had hit on recycling as a potential revenue source, and it was proving to be quite successful. With its weekly Bottle Drives, the Club has committed to funding one backpack per week, each donation feeding a family over the weekend for a year.  Unfortunately, this fundraiser has been temporarily suspended due to pandemic restrictions; however, the Rotary Recyclers hope to be up and running again in the New Year.

When students leave school for the weekend, the last thing they should have to worry about is how they are going to get their next meal. This is why the District 69 backpack program aims to create weekends that are worry-free for our community's kids!

In Virginia’s words:  “As a single parent, I feel very passionately about this program.  I believe no child should ever feel hungry and it is our responsibility to care for our little ones.  Every child should receive a gift during the holidays and a new piece of clothing.  We are building our future and it takes a community to raise one child.  We all have to do our part, and feeding our children is where we start.  Poverty in our area only increases so we take one step at a time to force change.”