Burnaby school breakfast program gets boost from group of businesswomen

Burnaby school breakfast program gets boost from group of businesswomen

In 2011, The Vancouver Sun’s Children’s Fund sent $11,000 to Edmonds Community School to pay for breakfasts for the 45 children coming to school hungry every day.

“We’ve just about used up that money,” Mischa Greenwood, the school’s community coordinator, said earlier this week.

The Burnaby school had only asked for $8,000 from the Adopt-a-School (AAS) campaign, but an extra $3,000 was tacked on to keep them going longer.

Now the money’s running out.

That it lasted as long as it did has a lot to do with frugality because as breakfasts go it’s spartan — toast spread with either cream cheese or jam, cornflakes or cheerios and milk.

Some days, eggs are on the menu.

Apart from the AAS money there is also help from Breakfast for Learning and the Burnaby Empty Bowls Project.

But it is a constant effort to keep children and impoverished families — many living in subsidized housing in this southeast section of Burnaby — with enough food, says Greenwood.

“We get donations of food from the Salvation Army, Costco and the Quest Food Exchange and that helps. But what we spend on breakfasts fluctuates from 96 cents to $1.10 a meal, depending on the type of food we are offering,” he said.

On Fridays, families struggling with poverty come to the school to pick up whatever Greenwood and his staff have been able to collect in food donations.

The food is placed on tables in the school’s community room.

“These families access the food bank, which is not far away, but this is an additional layer of support. It’s not much or as regular as the food bank because we are at the mercy of whatever food is available to us,” he said.

Edmonds is home to many new immigrant and refugee families with 50 languages being spoken among them.

The international flavour of the surrounding community is visible in the robes and headdresses of some of the volunteers serving breakfast, such as those worn by Amal Samra from Syria and Nurmiaty Karnudu from Indonesia.

As the program was running out of money, Adopt-a-School was asked for $15,000 to see the breakfast program through the next three years.

A number of Metro Vancouver schools are seeking the same kind of help from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign, which is intended to help them feed and clothe children living in poverty.

However, in Edmonds’ case a group of women from the business and financial community have stepped in to pick up the tab to keep the school’s emergency breakfast program operating. They will cover the $15,000 cost over the next three years.

Tracey McVicar, a partner with CAI Capital Management, said her group decided to help Edmonds after meeting with Sun Columnist Daphne Bramham.

“She got us interested in adopting a school,” said McVicar.

McVicar is no stranger to volunteering. In 2001 she spent six months between jobs working with impoverished families in New York.

“I wanted to go and help out in the poorest congressional district in America, which is the South Bronx. So I spent the summer volunteering in a church.

“The neighbourhood I was in had 50,000 people, most of them displaced from Times Square homeless centres in the 1990s.

“There were almost no men between the age of 19 to 40 as most of them were in jail. So it was lots of kids and moms. It was a crazy neighbourhood with no banks, no Internet service, no vegetables in the stores — the saddest place I’ve seen.”

McVicar is one of the organizers of a yearly golf tournament at UBC called Golf for Good and it’s money from this tournament that is being donated to AAS.

“We’ve raised over $1 million in the past eight years.

“We have three main beneficiaries but we set a little bit aside for special projects and this is one of them,” she said.

“If we pitch in for this school it will free up money raised by this year’s Adopt-a-School to be spent elsewhere,” she said.

“Helping this school is the least we can do as a group of pretty privileged people.”

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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