The Community First Foundation is featured in this week’s Non-Profit Highlight. We spoke with Lorraine Winchester, about the organization’s focus on fighting childhood hunger.

Community First Foundation  — 

Thousands of children in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland are going hungry. While school breakfast, lunch and snack programs are actively addressing this crisis, the weekend remains a difficult time for many families. That’s where the Community First Foundation, or Backpack Buddies, comes in. They send bags of nutritious, kid-friendly food home with children on Friday afternoons so that kids return to school on Monday morning ready to learn.

How did you get involved with the Community First Foundation?

The Community First Foundation (Backpack Buddies) was founded when we (Joanne Griffiths and her daughter Emily-Anne King) went to Collingwood School in West Vancouver with an idea: what if we could build connection, empathy and a stronger sense of community-commitment among young people while addressing one of our city’s most pressing issues: childhood hunger – particularly on the weekends? The answer was a resounding “Yes!” from the teachers and students at Collingwood, and so Backpack Buddies (our flagship program) was born. In the seven years since, our experience connecting kids with giving and volunteerism has affirmed this idea in big ways.

Describe your team and all of those involved with Community First.

The team at Community First Foundation consists of Joanne (the president and co-founder); Emily-anne (Vice President and co-founder); Lorraine, Christian and the most recent hire, Vishad. We operate with a very small staff and it’s “all hands-on deck” at all times. We all wear many, many hats and do whatever needs to be done at any given time. Aside from that, we have a very involved board and an army of dedicated and amazing volunteers. Our volunteers contribute up to 100 hours a week and we simply could not do what we do without them!

Two volunteers load packages of soup onto the Community First Foundation Van
What is a current project that your team is working on?

The team concentrates on our flagship program, Backpack Buddies –  tackling the weekend hunger gap head on by working with “buddy schools who raise funds, purchase food, and pack backpacks with enough meals for an entire weekend, for another child who needs it.

Projects are always ongoing at Backpack Buddies – anything from projects to optimize our efficiencies to planning donor events and our major annual fundraiser. The new year has found us working on internal CRM software upgrades – expected to wrap up in the next few weeks. And then something a “little” more exciting – our upcoming donor appreciation events. Stay tuned!

 

What challenges have you and your team overcome?

Like any small non-profit, our budgets are smaller and we have less resources to work with, but the deliverables are the same as any other organization. We have been fortunate in that as a team, we are willing to work across many roles – covering what might be dozens of roles in any other organization with just our small team. We have also been successful in attracting dozens of hardworking volunteers who contribute hundreds of man hours to our program – without that resource we would simply not meet our deliverables. We believe that a reliable, dedicated volunteer corps is the life blood of any charity.

A volunteer packages food into a backpack

What has been the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced working with Community First?

Working with our wonderful volunteers and our contacts at our schools is one of the most rewarding part of what we do. We have been so fortunate to meet and work with the kindest, most giving people – it truly reaffirms our faith and belief in “Community First!”

How can others contribute to the organization’s work?

Just $10 provides one backpack of food to a child in need. This gift ensures that they will have food for the whole weekend! We currently have a waiting list of students in need of Backpack Buddies support, and with your help, we can add these children to the program and provide them with much needed food for the weekend. 

We always welcome new volunteers, donors and “buddy schools” – if anyone wants to contribute in anyway please email us at info@communityfirstfoundation.ca – we would love to hear from you!


 

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