Aisa Smithanik, local coordinator for the BC Thanksgiving Food Drive, and her daughter Ainsley Smithanik picked up bags full of food donations in Sept. (photo Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: Even kids can be a part of something big

Aisa Smithanik makes sure to include her family, and students, in her volunteer work

A dozen kids follow Aisa Smithanik down the street like a flock of chicks following a mama turkey.

They are going door to door delivering and then picking up grocery bags full of canned foods for the hungry.

Smithanik is the local co-ordinator for the B.C. Thanksgiving food drive, a community event held province-wide to collect donations in late September for the food bank.

Smithanik started her new role in the organization last year but has been involved since she moved to Rupert seven years prior.

This is the eighth year Prince Rupert has been participating in the province-wide food drive, so Smithanik has been there almost since the very beginning.

Julie Slogan held the co-ordinator role until she passed the baton to Smithanik who continues to elevate the work.

The role is much more than a two-day event that entails a lot of behind-the-scenes work.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert and Port Edward residents rally for record breaking Thanksgiving food drive

Finding a volunteer opportunity that includes the whole family is important to Aisa Smithanik who has a busy schedule. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Any working mom has enough on their plate with a job and raising kids, but that is exactly why Smithanik got involved with this particular cause when she heard about it in her church.

“You know, sometimes you just get presented with opportunities that sometimes when you’re busy as a little family, you kind of have to pick and choose,” she said. “This one – we thought – it’s such a cool endeavour and something we could do as a family, and we just keep doing it every year.”

Smithanik and her husband have two kids together, seven-year-old daughter Ainsley and a son Alexander who will soon turn four.

“We all kind of work together to make this happen. And we have a lot of volunteers who are mostly families.”

Smithanik is a prep teacher with Apply Design Skills and Technology, a program that ties a science curriculum with design and building, kind of like engineering.

Aisa Smithanik reads a statement from a school board trustee candidate during the debate on Oct. 11. (Matthew Allen / The Northern View)

This year’s food drive saw volunteers come out in record numbers, collecting record amounts of food. Smithanik’s secret to success was getting the kids from Roosevelt Park and Annunciation School to help label 4,500 donation bags. This brought the total volunteers this season to 297 people.

“What I was hoping for [the kids] to kind of learn from that is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can be a part of something big, and that young people can be involved in their community.”

The classrooms also helped put stickers on the bags.

READ MORE: With 30 families volunteering this Thanksgiving, the food drive can cover both municipalities

“It wasn’t just Mickey Mouse work. We really needed all those labels. And so it was really important work for us that they were able to provide, and I think it could be really empowering for children and youth to be involved in something like that,” she said.

Volunteering is important for Smithanik because it starts early conversations with kids on what different organizations do to help individuals in the community and why they are needed.

Ammon Vera (second from right) turned eight and decided to spend his birthday with his family collecting and sorting donations. (photo courtesy of Aisa Smithanik)

“It opens up their world when they know more about other people in need, people outside their family and peers,” she said. “It’s really fun to get kids involved, even though we start when they are so young. And I hope families don’t get deterred when a volunteer opportunity comes up.”

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Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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