The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program has sent $567,328 to 94 schools throughout the province this year to help teachers feed, clothe and care for children suffering from poverty.
Since AAS began in 2011 – in response to requests from teachers unable to help these children and their families – the program has dispersed $3.8 million to more than 140 schools.
The money has come from readers of this newspaper concerned that poverty is preventing children from receiving an effective education as a consequence of hunger and privation.
“Where would we be, where would these children be without the generosity and concern of our readers?” said Vancouver Sun and Province editor Harold Munro.
“These children and their families have no voice. Very few people speak for them. We want them to have a voice – through us – so we as a society can do more than just leave them suffering like this, parents having to choose between paying rent or feeding their children.”
Most of the money is used to provide breakfast and lunch for children coming to school hungry, for winter coats and boots for those without them, for transit tickets to get children to school, for weekend food for families who otherwise would go hungry and for a whole range of items that teachers and principals consider necessary to alleviate suffering.
The program has built and equipped kitchens in schools so children can be fed, it has provided computer systems for specialneeds children, lice kits, washing machines and dryers in some schools so parents without access to these facilities can do laundry and meet a myriad of other needs.
Among this year’s donors was the Montalbano family, who gave $15,000 to Vancouver’s Queen Alexandra elementary for its Fill The Gaps program.
“We can’t turn our eyes away from people in need,” said John Montalbano who with his wife, Dana and two sons, Luke, 12, and Marco, 11, visited the school at 1300 East Broadway to discuss with principal Megan Davies how best to help.
They were introduced to Tracey MacKinlay and Pam Bragagnolo: two volunteers who provide weekend food to 30 families struggling to find enough money to eat.
MacKinlay and Bragagnolo work in tandem with The Backpack Buddies program founded by Joanne Griffiths, which provides backpacks of food every second weekend for families.
Fill The Gaps provides food for the in-between weekends.
The pair say they were inspired to create Fill The Gaps because of AAS.
They provide a recipe and cooking instructions along with ingredients to make weekend meals simple enough so children can prepare them if their parents are absent.
The Montalbano family has a long history of supporting B.C. charities and the boys have volunteered at food banks and in programs such as the YWCA’s Crabtree Corner.
“They were the youngest volunteers the YWCA ever had. They were five and seven and they had to have criminal record checks,” said their mother. “We always laugh about that one, but we wanted them to understand respectful giving because it’s important that it’s done properly.”
John Montalbano, the former CEO of RBC Global Management, Canada’s biggest asset-management firm, grew up on Vancouver’s east side and knew families living in poverty. He thinks it’s even worse now.
“As a child I didn’t really understand poverty. I’ve only been able to reconcile it as an adult. I grew up in the 1970s when we didn’t have a housing crisis like we have now with people having to go without food so they can pay the rent.”
“That’s why we believe people who are able should help.”
Before they left, the family promised further assistance if needed.
This year, Queen Alexandra elementary will receive $26,900 from AAS.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Law of Blundell Seafoods is supplying MacKinlay and Bragagnolo with 1,000 tins of tuna.
The school also has its own food bank stocked by donations from the Vancouver and District Labour Council.
In Surrey, one of the major programs AAS supports is the school district’s Attendance Matters, which is in more than 20 inner-city schools where poverty is prevalent. The program provides breakfast to 800 elementary schoolchildren as an incentive to get them to school on time and boost their attendance. Children living in poverty often miss school or arrive late, greatly reducing their chances of graduating.
The major donor to this program is Vancouver lawyer Jack Kowarsky of the Lohn Foundation, who gave $25,000. So far the foundation has donated $225,000 to Attendance Matters.
Munro, who is chair of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board, which administers AAS, thanked readers for making this year’s campaign a success.
“Because of you we have been able to meet every request to feed and clothe children in need. Without you it wouldn’t be possible.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)