There are some students attending Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary who own their own cars.
And there are some who own only the clothes on their backs.
The gulf that exists between those two groups needs no exploring.
“Kids with cars? Yes. I remember seeing one kid broken down who didn’t know how to use jumper cables,” says Adrienne Beaton, the school’s youth and family worker.
But it’s the kids she sees dressed in the only outfits they have to their names that concerns Beaton and school counsellor Joe Lee.
“This student isn’t here any longer,” she says providing an example, “but Joe and I had to take him downstairs and put him in the shower.
“He was wearing the only clothes he owned. So he passed out his clothes and we gave him a second set. He had a shower while we washed what he was wearing and once they were dry he had two sets,” says Beaton.
It’s no mystery why his clothes needed washing, said Lee.
“You won’t be washing your clothes too often if that’s all you’ve got to wear,” he says.
Adrienne Beaton, Sir Charles Tupper secondary youth and family worker, and school counsellor Joseph Lee in front of ‘Charlie’s Closet at the Vancouver school. The pair are seeking cash donations to fund Charlie’s Closet, a sort of in-school clothing store for impoverished kids.
Photograph by: Jason Payne , Vancouver Sun
For this reason, Beaton has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School fund for $3,000 to set up Charlie’s Closet — a sort of in-school clothing store that will provide new clothes and footwear to impoverished students.
It’s an issue that needs to be handled discreetly, said Beaton, because students who need such help don’t want those around them to know it.
“These are private matters and very embarrassing for kids in this situation,” says Beaton. “We see them wearing just hoodies in the pouring rain and it’s obvious they don’t have proper coats. But they won’t say anything.”
The working poor or families on income assistance often don’t have enough money to buy more than one set of clothes for their children, Lee said.
“So a kid gets dressed on Monday and he’s wearing that until Friday. It would be nice to have another jacket, or another pair of pants, some shirts. They also need (gym) strip to participate in PE and athletics,” he says.
At present, Beaton and Lee scrounge clothes from their families and friends and other staff.
“We’re cobbling things together from all over, taking things out of our closets. If we had the funds, we could get kids what they need right away instead of saying ‘Oh, let me Facebook my friends over the weekend and I’ll get back to you’,” says Lee.
Beaton said the clothes closet would be accessible to school counsellors, who would be made aware of a need by a classroom teacher.
“We have a diverse population of kids in the school and some are doing just fine and actually give to others. But it’s the kids with real needs, and when they come on our radar we would like some place to help them,” she says.
“These kids should have access to the things other kids take for granted.”
Each year Tupper students spend a week getting out-of-school work experience. One of the unintended consequences of the program is that it exposes those students making do with just a few clothes.
“It’s a job shadowing program and if they are going into a professional environment they might need to wear something nicer than what they come to school in. Most kids are fine but every once in a while there’s a problem,” says Lee.
“Last year one of the girls — a nice girl and very popular — was asked if there was something more formal she could wear because of where she was going and she broke down in tears.
“She said ‘This is all I have to wear, I don’t have anything else’. So one of the teachers who had a daughter the same size went and grabbed a bunch of stuff from her daughter’s closet. That happened twice last year.
“It would be nice if we had the option of getting some of the boys slacks if all they have are jeans and sweats, same for the girls,” says Lee.
“Also once the kids get to know about this they’ll self-advocate. It’ll be ‘I can’t buy a coat or my young sister needs a coat, can you help us?’”
Last year, the Tupper Alternative Program received Adopt-A-School help to begin a breakfast program, as students were coming to school hungry.
This year Tupper is seeking a total of $8,800 from Adopt-A-School to continue its emergency breakfast program and also fund Charlie’s Closet.
“I applied last year so I could feed these kids in the morning and give them something substantial and healthy,” says Beaton.
“And it’s really worked out well. After they’ve had something to eat they are ready to learn and now they can’t use the ‘I’m hungry’ excuse any more. Although usually they wouldn’t tell us they were, but you could see they couldn’t settle down and were restless.
“And it’s really helped with attendance, too, because knowing there’s something to eat brings them to school on time,” says Beaton.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)