During the pandemic of 2020, support has poured into the Family Resource Center of Bellingham Public Schools, responding to the need for food, personal care products and other necessities for district families.
One of the most recent initiatives, Fill the Van Food and Basic Needs Drive, took place in mid-November and was organized by high school students at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum. With the help and enthusiasm of these students, the Bellingham community filled five district vans and one personal vehicle with food and hygiene items. The estimated weight of the donations in the six vehicles was 10,000 lbs. of food and supplies. In addition, $2,500 in gift cards was also collected.
We caught up with Sehome dean of students and teacher Kim Kirk and Squalicum teacher Jason Bergman to discuss November’s Fill the Van initiative spearheaded by some of their students.
How did this idea originate? Were the kids looking for something to do that would help families in need during the pandemic?
KIM KIRK: At the start of the school year, we had the ASB leadership from Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum “meet virtually” to brainstorm what they could do as a collective group. The students came up with many different ideas and one of the ideas floated was to coordinate a food drive of some sort. They decided they wanted to do the event for our Family Resource Center knowing all the donations would go to families in our district.
We contacted staff member Kathe Koruga, who is a family liaison in the district, and acquired a list of specific items that the resource center was needing. With that the ASB and leadership students put together the messaging for our schools to promote across the district. We are so thankful for the willingness of our families and the broader community to give to this drive!
JASON BERGMAN: It meant so much for the Squalicum Storm family to have the opportunity to give back to others. It’s not enough that social distancing keeps you from seeing friends and family in school and social settings; it also means you can’t be out in the community as much helping others. That’s why the Fill the Van Food and Basic Needs Drive was so uplifting. It wasn’t just about getting food, supplies, and monetary donations for those in need, it was having the chance to actually “see” others doing good. And smiling. And laughing. And caring. Students that helped with the drive (from the SQHS Leadership class, the Storm Mentor Link Crew, and the Lemon Club) handled the rain, wind, a little bit of sun, and cold with determination and passion. Staff members also took time away from work and home to make sure everyone was safe and supported.
Can you share the enthusiasm, the energy behind the project?
KIM KIRK: Traditionally, each high school usually does some sort of giving drive during the month of November for our community. Our students didn’t want the pandemic to be a reason they couldn’t give. They were so excited that they could do something for the community – since so many events for students have been cancelled.
Each school figured their drop off location and volunteers to come and help, not having any idea what the outcome would be and what we would get. The leadership students I worked with were over the moon to be on campus but also to feel like they were doing something of importance for someone else. The energy students had those two days was something that I had not witnessed in a long, long time. To be honest, we were excited to see each other in person but we were also sad because we didn’t know when we would be able to see each other again outside of Zoom.
JASON BERGMAN: It was so uplifting to see individuals (students, staff, and families) I’ve known for years coming out to help support the drive, but it was also about seeing all the new faces and new families that are now a part of our Storm Family wanting to help. It was seeing people in their cars drive by our food drive signs, making a U-turn, and heading back to their homes to get food to drop off at the school. These were families that maybe don’t even have kids at Squalicum, they’re just individuals that want to make the world a better place. And that’s what it’s all about.
Since the shutdown, there have been many forms of community support for the Family Resource Center. These have been coordinated by the Friends of the FRC, Whatcom Covid Helpers, and multiple churches, including Lettered Street Church, Cornwall Church, New Song Church and Redeemer Church and other community partners.
Alongside these school and community drives, the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation has also been a source of support to the FRC and our families. In particular, through a Haggen’s Foundation Nourishing Neighbors grant and through their general COVID emergency fund, the Foundation has supported a culturally-relevant food pantry at the FRC, providing funds to buy items in bulk which are then packed into family-size portions. These include food items like masa flour, dried beans, rice, halal products, to name only a few.
If you would like to join the efforts to support district families in need, the Foundation encourages gifts to the Covid Relief Fund which responds to all kinds of needs during this unprecedented, difficult year.