Robin Pilchak knows what it’s like being a single mother with young children and how hard it is to feed them when money is tight.
“I’m a single mom with three kids, and I struggled for quite a while. It’s not easy to get good, healthy food for kids because it costs so much,” said Pilchak. “When my kids were growing up, there weren’t any programs in schools to feed kids. We really could have used something.”
This explains why Pilchak shows up each day at Birchland Elementary in the north end of Port Coquitlam at 7:30 a.m. to feed hungry children.
That, and a kind heart, because she’s not getting paid to do it.
Her day job is with the Kateslem Youth Society, a non-profit that works in the Coquitlam school district providing a variety of services, including helping to feed lunch to needy children.
Last year, the society received $10,000 for food and kitchen equipment from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign to support its work.
But society executive director Karyn Bell said now they need to start feeding children breakfast at some schools where they are arriving hungry.
Birchland is one, but Kateslem’s shoestring budget doesn’t have the money to pay staff to do it.
“We wondered what we could do, but then Robin said, ‘Don’t worry, Karyn, I’ll do it. Somehow we’ll make it work.’So she’s volunteering her time and we couldn’t do it without her,” said Bell.
But there is another problem.
There isn’t enough money to give the 15 or so children who need feeding either sufficient food or a qualitybreakfast.
School principal Elspeth Anjos said the school has had people and organizations support them in the past, but the help is drying up.
“We’ve had cutbacks. It’s not donor fatigue, I don’t think. It’s just there are so many demands on donors and there’s lots of good causes, so they get torn,” said Anjos. “And there’s only so much in the kitty, so everyone gets less. Our Aboriginal youth worker and Kateslem pitch in, but we’ve had to cut things out. We used to make smoothies out of fruit and yogurt, but it got to be too pricey.”
Pilchak often finds only a few basics available to feed the children – toast, cereal, bagels, some yogurt and pancakes on Fridays, sometimes made with pancake mix brought in from home.
“The portions are too small for the kids and there’s not enough good, quality food we can give them. I’d like to expand it. I want to feed them healthy food. Let them have eggs, cheese, sausage, fruit and yogurt – something a lot more substantial, and lot bigger portions.”
The society is seeking $10,000 from the Adopt-A-School program to feed children in three elementary schools.
Part of the money would be spent on building garden boxes in the schools so children could grow their own fruit and vegetables.
“That’s a really neat project. It would be great to grow our own food,” said Anjos.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)