Parked 20 metres away was a truck containing hundreds of gifts from London Drugs, and a small crowd of children was gathered in the hallway around teacher Rajbir Sohal, waiting to help unload it.
She was about to open the school doors and let them out when she remembered how cold it was.
“Put your coats on,” Sohal said. Some ran off to the cloakroom, but one small boy stayed put.
“I don’t have a coat,” he said with a mixture of embarrassment and anxiety. Then after a pause: “I have two sweaters.”
There was something dreadful in that announcement.
For the adults in the hallway at Surrey’s Old Yale Road Elementary, this child’s apology was a reminder that poverty is more than capable of leaving a child without a coat to get through winter.
That morning, the temperature was near zero, and in the afternoon when that child went home, it was raining. His cotton hoodie — his other sweater — was thin, and no protection against either cold or rain.
Old Yale Road Elementary is one of many in the province seeking help from the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign to deal with the effects of poverty.
Local schools are asking for almost $1 million to help children — such as this young boy — who are suffering from hunger and privation.
Old Yale Road Elementary needs $10,000 to provide weekend food for 30 or so families who might not eat otherwise.
The school is among the 23 most needy Surrey schools that collectively need $100,000 from Adopt-A-School to feed 1,000 hungry children breakfast every day.
Today, Christmas gifts came pouring out of the back of a truck and were stacked in Sohal’s classroom ready to be distributed to children and families as part of London Drugs’ continuing commitment to Adopt-A-School.
“We have been doing this for eight years and it’s very important to us,” said Wendy Hartley, the company’s media representative.
The truck was loaded with gifts destined for four Lower Mainland schools: Old Yale Road Elementary, Surrey School district’s Safe Schools program, Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education (CABE), and Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary.
At Safe Schools’ headquarters — located in a commercial building on 76th Ave. near 134th St. — another example of the gulf that separates the poor from the rest came when the organization’s Nancy Smith was delighted to see cartons of toilet paper being unloaded from the truck.
How many people would consider toilet paper a present?
Smith does, considering what the poor must contend with.
“Do you know how many kids we have here who go to McDonald’s and take napkins because they don’t have toilet paper? Getting this is great.”
Safe Schools cares for 150 students deemed to be the most vulnerable and at risk in Surrey, which is the largest school district in the province with 75,500 registered students.
Many of the 150 live in poverty, and Adopt-A-School is being asked for $10,000 to help them. The money is needed during the Christmas holiday to buy food for those who rely on being fed at school and now face the prospect of going hungry. The money will also be used for gifts for them and their families and for winter clothes.
Sarah McKay, manager of Safe Schools, says that the Adopt-A-School money can save some of these students from being criminally exploited if they find themselves hungry or in need during the school break.
The truck also brought hundreds of presents in the form of cosmetics and lotions and hair brushes, toothpaste and hygiene items and hair-grooming kits for boys.
At CABE, the boxes unloaded from the truck contained baby toys for the three mothers attending the program on Foster Avenue, as well as cosmetics and hundreds of other items.
Heaven Oele, 19, and her baby, Hexxter, who will be two on Dec. 21, have been in the program since 2017.
She will be graduating next year and wants to go to Douglas College to study accounting.
“It’s nice that they have done this,” she said.
Youth worker Jill Allen looked at the amount of baby gifts and said she will share them with a group of mothers she knows outside school who are in need of help.
“There are a lot of refugees and some have big families. We will make sure they get what they need,” said Allen.
CABE is requesting $48,000 from Adopt-A-School for food, clothing, bus fares and other items for its 200 students. Half of the request is to equip a replacement kitchen.
When the truck stopped in Vancouver at Tupper Secondary on East 24 Aveune, London Drugs Victoria Square manager Willie Jang was there to watch the final batch of gifts being delivered.
They will be distributed to students in alternative school programs that are located in the building.
“We’re a Canadian company and we want to give back to the community. It’s important to us,” said Jang
Adopt-A-School is being asked for $30,000 to feed and clothe students here.
Jennifer Eayrs, a youth and family worker in one of the alternative programs, thanked Jang for the gifts.
“We need help. It will mean a lot to our kids and their families,” said Eayrs.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)