Today marks the ninth year that The Vancouver Sun will be appealing to our readers for help in alleviating one of the most serious social problems of the day — the spectre of children arriving at school in need of food.
It’s not just hundreds of children, it’s thousands — possibly tens of thousands — who come to school hungry, having had no breakfast, without lunch, and with no money to buy food.
The demographics, which haven’t changed for the better since The Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign was launched in 2011, tell us that every fifth child you see in a crowded school playground is living in poverty, has hunger in their life, is not clothed adequately, and is suffering not only physically but emotionally.
Poverty is the lot of the family existing on social assistance, or on a minimum-wage job. It’s what many refugees arriving with no independent means or proficiency in English will experience as they find their way to the nearest food bank.
For children of the poor, the only place to intervene in this is at the school door.
School is where the state assumes control of children for the morning and afternoon. It is the obvious place to monitor their welfare. And as the rest of the 36 states in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development realize — Canada being the exception — it is the best place to tackle childhood hunger.
Hence the world’s 35 most-developed nations have national programs to feed children suffering from poverty in schools. The U.S. government spends $18 billion a year on various emergency food programs for children.
Canada has nothing.
Of course, The Sun’s Adopt-A-School program could be put out of business tomorrow if the federal and provincial government would accept responsibility for these children’s needs. Cosmetic increases in social assistance payments or the minimum wage won’t stop this, for as soon as social assistance rates are increased so too are rents, and the poor are left no better off.
The Sun has interviewed a mother with two teenage children whose story will be told during this year’s campaign. Her predicament is an object lesson about what it means to be poor.
She receives $1,096 in social assistance.
After paying rent, she is left with $3 a month. And the rent is going up in April.
The family survives on measly federal child tax credits and the three of them often go hungry. Her main source of help with food comes from what Adopt-A-School gives to the school for its breakfast and lunch programs and the emergency fund she can access when she is out of money and food.
With politicians sitting on the sidelines, the job of caring for these families is left to a handful of organizations who provide breakfast, or, in the case of Vancouver’s peerless Backpack Buddies, send food home on weekends.
All are laudable, but given the scale of the problem, inadequate.
Adopt-A-School is the largest of these ad hoc programs operating in British Columbia.
In the last nine years, Adopt-A-School has sent almost $4.8 million to hundreds of schools across the province. It has provided in excess of a million meals, along with clothes, shoes and other necessities.
Every penny is sent to schools. There are no administration costs deducted from donations.
Adopt-A-School has provided kitchens for schools, laundry facilities so families can wash their clothes, and has even rebuilt a greenhouse in Boston Bar so children can eat fresh vegetables. The program has paid for lice kits, and provided schools with emergency funds so families without money and food can eat.
The list is long and varied.
Last year, almost $1 million was given out, by far the largest annual amount and a reflection of the growing cries for help.
This year’s applications are already totalling $1 million, with more coming.
In Surrey, for instance, there are 4,740 children identified by the school district in need of our assistance. They require feeding in school, weekend food, clothing, transit fares, and a multitude of other necessities all stemming from privation.
One program alone feeds 990 children in 23 inner-city schools every day and requires $100,000 from Adopt-A-School for food.
Once again, The Vancouver Sun is appealing to our readers for help.
“It is your generosity that has sustained us through the past nine years, and without it thousands of children would have been left hungry each day,” said Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and The Province.
“They would not have been clothed or fed or given the opportunity to go on a school outing like children whose families are better off,” said Munro, who is also chair of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which operates Adopt-A-School.
“But we can’t do anything for these children and families without you. We can write stories, we can agonize, but there’s no calories in any of that.
“These children need feeding. There is no escaping this. We won’t turn a blind eye to it. All we can do is appeal to our readers and their generosity of heart to stand with us.
“You have never let us down.”
• How to donate to Adopt-A-School.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)