Adopt-A-School: B.C.’s children need us more than ever as almost $1 million has been requested by 102 schools
We need you again. We face the coming months with some trepidation. Nothing is normal, the life we expected for ourselves has been changed beyond belief. Our faith is now placed in your generosity and concern to get poor families through what might be a dreadful fall and winter.
— Vancouver Sun editor in chief Harold Munro
When we launched last year’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign to feed, clothe and comfort poor children arriving at school hungry there was more than enough suffering to go around.
At the time it was estimated 20 per cent of children in this rich province were impoverished, and hunger and privation was their daily lot.
Then a few months later a cataclysmic event no one could have foreseen — a world-altering pandemic — turned calamity into catastrophe.
Many families that had been financially holding their own slipped into poverty as jobs and incomes were evaporated by the effects of the pandemic.
The economy has been turned upside down in B.C. and many service jobs that relied on tourism have simply vanished.
It will take some time before the statisticians deliver their verdict on the impact in terms of job losses and poverty levels but there is every indication it has been severe.
This year demands on food banks have reached new heights and The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which administers AAS, has never before seen so many requests from schools desperate to feed hungry children. Requests from 102 schools total almost $1 million.
Since 2011 Vancouver Sun readers have contributed almost $6.5 million in direct help to impoverished children and families, says Harold Munro, editor in chief of The Vancouver Sun/Province.
“You have provided millions of meals to thousands of children. You have bought them winter coats, boots, medicine, fed them and their families at weekends, given schools the means to help families when an emergency arises that affects their health and well being,” said Munro.
“Your donations have impacted schools in all corners of this province and without you the suffering would have been much worse.
“We need you again. We face the coming months with some trepidation. Nothing is normal, the life we expected for ourselves has been changed beyond belief. Our faith is now placed in your generosity and concern to get poor families through what might be a dreadful fall and winter.”
The pandemic forced us into running an emergency campaign in the spring to help schools whose breakfast and lunch programs — that poor families rely on to feed their children — were shut down as schools closed.
The prospect of these children losing their only reliable access to food each day was horrifying.
Impromptu programs to feed these children (and families) outside of the classroom sprang up as schools resorted to delivering food and food vouchers to families at home or organized food pickup stations in school playgrounds.
Thanks to the generosity and concern of our readers AAS raised and distributed approximately $800,000 in COVID-19 relief to schools and organizations feeding the poor.
This was in addition to the $833,000 that had just been distributed to schools through the normal AAS campaign before COVID-19 halted all in-school food programs.
This year we are heading into uncharted waters. No one can say what will happen now the second pandemic wave has arrived or if schools will be able to ride it out.
Whether they can or not won’t change an indisputable and unassailable fact: these children’s only access to daytime food is through their schools and any disruption to that pipeline will result in hunger for tens of thousands.
This simply can’t be allowed to happen.
It is easy to talk about poverty in the abstract but how does it look in-person?
Last year a Surrey mother existing on social assistance disability payments spelled it out.
The poverty line defined by Statistics Canada — for a family of three like hers — is having an income below $38,335 a year.
Many families exist on social assistance payments or minimum wage earnings that are so far below this threshold that they would believe themselves wealthy if they ever reached it.
This lady has two children, both large boys. One a preteen, the other a teenager.
She gets $1,096 a month in income assistance.
When she was interviewed her rent was $1,093 a month giving her an excess of $3. In April the rent went up.
In addition she receives $913 a month in federal child tax allowances and $75 a month — intermittently — from her ex-spouse.
Altogether she receives an income of $25,008 a year. So far below the poverty line that where this family resides needs another definition.
If she were capable of work and took a minimum wage job she would hardly be any better off.
So how does the family manage?
Well, they really don’t.
They have a roof over their heads but are constantly hungry — the mother often goes without food so her sons can eat.
She has to fit what money she has between food, clothing, necessities and is utterly helpless to deal with any financial emergency such as medical treatment requiring prescriptions or having a tooth fixed.
It is AAS money that supports and feeds her boys when they are at school because without it there would be no guarantee that they could be fed during the day.
The family lives off the food bank when she is strong enough to walk the 45 minutes it takes to get there and has the strength to walk back carrying a bag of groceries. Busing isn’t an option because they are too poor to afford bus fare.
But there are times when she has no strength, no money and no food.
AAS provides her school with emergency funds to deal with situations like this so she can receive supermarket gift cards when all else fails.
The notion that impoverished children are exclusively from families existing on social assistance is false. A great many have a parent working at a minimum wage job.
In Metro Vancouver — with its high rents — a minimum wage job isn’t sufficient to put a roof over a family’s head and leave them enough money to eat properly.
We have talked to single mothers recently who tell a similar story as this mother — they are constantly faced with either paying rent or buying food and they have to rely on schools to feed their children.
For teachers none of this is news because they see the suffering of children every day — something the public and our politicians are spared.
This newspaper’s position is that senior governments must intervene and create a national school food program to feed impoverished children.
Every nation belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — except Canada — has some sort of national school food program for hungry children.
The United States spent $18 billion on such programs last year.
It is shameful that no political party in this province considers this an issue. They consistently ignore the plight of these children who make up more than 20 per cent of the school population.
That is one fifth of our greatest natural resource suffering from neglect.
The salmon fishery is an important natural resource and the Fraser River run has been imperilled for years by pollution, industrialization and rock falls. Do politicians just shrug, do nothing and say “well, it’s only 20 per cent we can live with it — there’s still the Skeena, the Nass, the Stikine and the Taku.”
Would we leave one fifth of Georgia Strait covered in oil from a tanker spill?
No. There would be outrage.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)