Food for Families in Need – Vancouver Police Foundation
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Food for Families in Need

VPD Cst. Mariya Zhalovaga was a School Liaison Officer for the past five years at Windermere Secondary School and with the support of Foundation donors, she developed not one, but two programs to support youth and their families in that neighbourhood. In addition to the Windermere Running Club, Mariya founded the “Food for Families in Need” program almost two years ago. Despite Mariya’s new position in the VPD as a Detective in Domestic Violence & Elder Abuse, she is thrilled to continue engaging and supporting vulnerable students and their families through this program.

Since April 2020, the Food for Families program has supported 70 families who were having trouble making ends meet – some because of COVID-19 pandemic and others due to unique family circumstances. Food security is a concern for many Windermere families, which include many single parents, new immigrants and low-income households. While the Vancouver School Board has a robust breakfast and lunch program for those who qualify, it isn’t able to provide meals outside school hours, such as dinners and meals on weekends.

“Many students are registered for the free lunch program that VSB provides although there are still a large number of families who did not quite meet the criteria for the Lunch Program but were still struggling to cover the basics for their family – rent, food, and clothing,” explains Mariya. “With help from the Windermere school counsellors, I was able to identify families who were struggling and then reach out to each family directly and confidentially.”

After shifts and on days-off, Mariya makes phone call to the families, asks for their grocery wish-list and then goes shopping and delivering. Through the generosity of donations to the VPF, she is able to purchase enough food for each family for one week.

“So many immigrant families were very surprised that a police officer was calling them and asking them for their grocery list. I enjoy getting to know each family and putting a smile on their face when I deliver the groceries. There have been many families who had tears of joy when they saw a week’s worth of groceries delivered to their door,” added Mariya.

The Food for Families in Need program not only provides food and essentials for those who need it most, but it also establishes positive interactions and relationships between the community and VPD officers and it also engages a culture of volunteerism among Windermere neighbourhood teens who want to make a difference. Since its inception, Mariya has had dozens of Windermere students volunteer to help her with shopping and deliveries, as well as teens from previous VPD Student Challenge programs, Community Policing volunteers, and many fellow VPD officers.

“Once I have the grocery list from each family, I take 4-5 youth volunteers with me to do the shopping. The students range from grade 8-12 and for some grade 8 students, it is their first-time grocery shopping – this gives me the opportunity teach them about budgeting and staying on track. I am so thankful for all my volunteers, I couldn’t do this without them!” When the shopping is complete, they load everything into Mariya’s vehicle and she delivers directly to the family’s home.

 

“It is important to me to do the grocery shopping and delivery for a family instead of giving them a gift card because it makes the experience more personal.”

Being able to personally deliver groceries also means Mariya can make important human connections and can check-in on the mental well-being of the family as well. With two years of COVID-19 restrictions making social interactions very difficult, mental health conditions related to both isolation and difficult home situations have become very prevalent. In some cases, Mariya learns about other important resources the family needs – she then puts the wheels in motion for the family to receive additional support through other community programs.

“It’s a smile, a helping hand, words of encouragement, and a connection to other resources that also comes with the delivery of groceries. I’ve had a few socially-distanced picnics with students and their parents in their front yard. It was a chance to talk about the challenges that the students were going through and find solutions on how to help.”

“I am thankful to the Vancouver Police Foundation and donors for supporting this program that is making a difference in so many lives!” – Mariya.

 

If you would like to donate to support Food for Families in Need or any other VPD officer-initiated community program, please donate online or call us at 604.717.3700. Gifts of all sizes can make a difference.