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Program seeks to eliminate students’ weekend food worries

Since October of last year, a program organized by a Lynden church has been coordinating with Ferndale elementary schools to help feed students over the weekend.

According to an organizer, Larae Tjoelker, the Calvary Creekside church program, Open Hands, began in Lynden elementary schools and has grown to a point where they are now providing for 540 students each week. “We have been given the opportunity to feed elementary kids on the weekend who are on the free and reduced lunch program in the public schools in Whatcom County. Our program is free and voluntary to sign up for,” Tjoelker said in an email.

The effort begins on Sundays when volunteers at Calvary Creekside pack bags to be sent home with the students. Tjoelker said each bag provides for 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 2 snacks. Then, on Friday afternoons, the bags are brought to the schools and distributed.

Ferndale School District Executive Director of Student Services Paul Douglas said his team has been working with Calvary Creekside and the Open Hands program noting, “The role of the district is minimal.” Douglas said the program is new in the Ferndale School District for the 2018-19 school year. Custer Elementary School was the first to participate, followed by Cascadia Elementary School in December and Central Elementary School is expected to begin in March. “The question of expanding to additional schools will depend on the number of students interested in participating and capacity through the Open Hands program,” according to Douglas.

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Tjoelker said their goal is to “help bridge the gap of hunger” in all Whatcom County elementary schools. “Little by little the food and financial donations come in making it possible for so many elementary students to not have to worry about having enough food for the weekend,” Tjoelker said.

It costs $2.50 per child per weekend according to Tjoelker. Estimated current monthly program expenses are about $5400.

Tjoelker said they hope businesses and community members in Ferndale will be able to help feed kids in their schools. To help, people can purchase needed items and bring them or have them shipped to Calvary Creekside at 2313 E Badger Road in Everson (zip code: 98247 for shipments). Financial assistance is also welcome. “Checks can be made out to Calvary Creekside with Open Hands noted in the memo line and 100% of the money donated goes directly to purchasing food,” Tjoelker said.

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