SOURIS — Ilse Peters-Ching is going outside of her comfort zone to help pull off this year's Village Feast fundraiser.
"I'm scared that it won't work," she said. "But it's not about me. It's about the kids."
Since the annual Souris event started in 2008, it's grown to draw about 1,200 people out each year to enjoy a meal and support local charities such as Farmers Helping Farmers, the Souris Food Bank, Coats for Kids and the Families East Resource Centre.
But this year organizers have converted it into the Virtual Village Feast because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they're working to meet their $24,000 goal via an online campaign. Mass gathering restrictions made it tricky to do otherwise, Peters-Ching said.
"We couldn't do the physical feast this year," she said. "But we couldn't drop our needs."
While other events such as concerts and picnics across the province have been cancelled or postponed this year, Peters-Ching felt the feast had to go on as there are people who depend on it. As a teacher at Souris Regional School she knows that about 25 per cent of its students make regular use of the Souris Food Bank, she said.
And while fostering Souris' community is a big part of the feast, it also plays a role in other parts of the world.
Teresa Mellish, co-ordinator for Farmers Helping Farmers, said over the years the feast has helped to construct 17 cookhouses at Kenyan schools. They collectively provide about 3,000 meals a day to students.
"As a result of that, children do much better at their school work," she said.
Similar to the experience at P.E.I., schools in Kenya have been temporarily closed during the pandemic, but the cookhouses have continued to operate and provide food, Mellish said.
"It's being offered to the people in the community."
This year, the feast will be putting its contribution for Farmers Helping Farmers toward the salaries of the cookhouse's gardeners to help keep them in operation. As of July 1, just over $3,000 of its goal has been raised, which organizers are hoping to reach by July 19.
Peters-Ching is still working on some unknowns, such as whether there will be any online events or activities in place of the in-person one. But both she and Mellish are hopeful that they'll draw the same number of people out to support the cause — even though there won't be a meal this time around.
"COVID's putting us to the test, that's for sure," Peters-Ching said.
Daniel Brown is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. Twitter.com/dnlbrown95