ST. STEPHEN – The Game Time Irishmen have only been around since November 2021 in the Southern Senior Hockey League, but the team has already donated $2,500 to the We’ve Got Your Back (WGYB) foundation. Through Charlotte County Chase the Ace Sports Group the Irishmen were able to make a sizeable donation in mid-February towards WGYB, a local charity that targets hunger in children in the area. The goal of the organization is to remove the fear of hunger from children in the community.
Team member Nick Nozzolillo reports the Irishman have also supported the St. George Elementary School playground. “We try to give back to different causes,” he relates. “My wife is on the board of We’ve Got Your Back and it seemed like a good charity.”
The money is welcomed by the volunteer shoppers of WGYB program, who each week watch for food sales. They shop for approximately 70 children in five schools: Milltown Elementary School, St. Stephen Elementary School, St. Stephen Middle School, St. Stephen High School, and Lawrence Station Elementary School. Program volunteer Marilyn Gullison says, “We mostly shop online, but I keep my eyes open for sales. You can only buy 25 items online, but I go in if there’s a sale,” Gullison says.
“As you can buy more in person. I go again and again. That’s why there’s so much soup right now, as there was a sale on soup.”
The food goes to the Union Street Atlantic Baptist Church in St. Stephen. The church supports the organization by giving it space to work and to store food until volunteers can pack the bags. Other team members deliver the bags to the schools near the end of the week so that the schools can give selected students a small bag of groceries. As the groceries usually go home on Friday nights, WGYB ensures that children can enjoy their weekends without being affected by hunger.
“In the summer,” says Gullison, “the teachers step-up to the plate and deliver the groceries. That way we maintain confidentiality.”
The program began in 2010 after a school principal commented that school breakfast and lunch programs might help students during the week, but not on weekends. Originally the groceries were packed in backpacks, hence the name We’ve Got Your Back. However, as it was tricky to have the backpacks returned, the food is now delivered in plastic bags.
Gullison, who has been with the program for a year and a half, is a former teacher.
“You can’t function when you are hungry,” she says.
Vibrant Communities Charlotte County’s Community Coordinator Raymond Funk says in an email that reports indicate St. Stephen has one of the highest child poverty rates in our region, although there had been some slight improvement between 2016 and 2019. Funk cites a look at child poverty by the Saint John Human Development Council on Child Poverty that lists it as 35.1 per cent in St. Stephen in 2019. One national measuring stick comes from Campaign 2000’s report that gives the 2019 national child poverty figure as 17.7 per cent.
The program used to spend about $10 a child per week, but with the rising cost of groceries, it now costs $15 per child per week. As a registered charity, WGYB offers a “Sponsor a Child” donation program. In this program, for example, the donor can receive receipts for sponsoring a child for $50 a month. Monthly donation is gaining traction, while other people are regular donors. “Several people passed away recently,” Gullison says, “and we were honoured that they chose us as their charity for donations.”
The program has a number of corporate sponsors. Mentioned on the WGYB website are Arauco, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Cooke Aquaculture, Guy R. Day Insurance Group and Kraft Food for Families. Gullison notes that Second Harvest joined the donor list this past year. However, there is still need. “Sometimes the cupboards are bare,” Gullison says.
Fortunately, bare shelves are not the norm. “We have one family that regularly brings us noodles,” she says. Noodles, granola bars, crackers, bread, and cereal are some of the items tucked into the participants’ bags. As a child-focused program, “We try to send things that are nutritional and that are “grab ‘n’ eat,” Gullison says.
“After all we don’t know a child’s home situation.”
For larger holiday meals, in the past, WGYB has served special hot ham dinners to their participant families. The group prepared and delivered up to 125 meals biannually. However, it had to stop for the last few years due to pandemic restriction complications. Now the organization is looking forward to resuming their hot meal delivery in April.
“We’ve had some good feed back for that,” says Gullison. “We’re determined to do it again.”
As for WGYB, “This program is definitely needed,” says Gullison. WGYB is not seeking to expand to other schools, however the group is creating an operational plan to share with other groups that are looking for a program template. Interested persons can contact Gullison at 466-6428, check in at wgyb.ca or go through their schools.