Marnie Buffett, left, with some help from daughter Francesca and her other four children (plus her husband), has been putting together packages of school supplies at home. Teacher Megan Baker holds some of the face shields she created with 3D printing. Left photo courtesy Marnie Buffett; right, handout photo

Kenora board reaches out in crisis

By  Wendy-Ann Clarke, Catholic Register Special
  • May 3, 2020

While physical distancing has left people feeling isolated, outreach initiatives by the Kenora Catholic District School Board are fostering hope by helping students and families realize they are not alone.

For Marnie Buffett and a team of dedicated volunteers, that means rolling up their sleeves to support the Rotary Nutrition on Weekend (NOW) program, which works with local schools to distribute food packages to vulnerable families.

“It’s the Easter message to love one another as I have loved you,” said Buffett. “We’re seeing an outpouring of support because education is about helping people meet their full potential.

“Even though it can be a volunteer scheduling nightmare, it’s so beautiful because so many people want to be a part of this.”

Even before the pandemic, on school days Kenora schools were providing approximately 700 meals to elementary students. Now the health and hunger committee also provides more than 100 meals on weekends.

With the pandemic and families in quarantine, Buffett recognized there may be a greater need now.

“With the school shutdowns and many parents work hours being decreased, families that previously didn’t require even to participate may now require help,” said Buffett. “Families who were already in the program, we anticipated may need even more so we started increasing outreach and asked people to please connect with us.”

The volunteers are partnered with the Northwestern Health Unit, which provides space to package the food. The Rotary Club reached out to the public school board to offer help for families there as well.

The initiative, which sees food packages made available for pickup and delivery following safety protocols, has received a rush of interest from volunteers, including several teachers and parents who volunteered their personal vehicles to deliver food.

Buffett also recognized a need for school supplies and began preparing packages at home with her five children. Stationary provided includes pencil crayons, markers and various art supplies. There are also jump ropes so students can remain active while at home.  

“You can tie it back to our Catholic teachings about the discerning believer,” said Buffett. “It’s about learning to advocate for each other as part of our social responsibility.”

For Megan Baker, working to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 has meant donating her 3D printing skills to the cause.

 “I started implementing 3D printing in the elementary level about four years ago,” said Baker, who teaches Grades 4 and 5 at École Ste-Marguerite Bourgeoys. “When the pandemic hit, a friend of mine who is a paramedic approached me to see if I would be interested in printing a backup supply of face shields, so I immediately started researching materials and different designs.”

Amid a global shortage of personal protective equipment, Baker reached out to emergency room staff at her local hospital for feedback on a design that would meet the needs of frontline workers. For extra tips, she joined shield-maker Facebook groups from around the world, where she says a lot of people suggested using transparency paper for the protective face cover, which was in ample supply at her school.

With the support of Kenora’s Director of Education Derek Haime, principal Nicole Kurtz and community donations, Baker has been able to print the shields and protective ear guards from home. Producing between eight and 10 shields per day, Baker has delivered protective shields to various locations, including hospitals, Kenora’s ambulance base, dentists and centres for the homeless.  

Baker says her motivation comes from a place that is deeply personal.

“My husband had a cardiac arrest in November, 2018 and medical staff saved his life,” said Baker. “I’ve been trying to find a way to repay them for what they’ve done for my family.

“I guess the shields to me are symbolic in terms of me protecting them as they protected us.”

(NOTE: This story has been updated to acknowledge the rold of the Rotary Nutrition on Weekend program.)

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