Canada is proud of being a classless society, we give out a few honours — Order of Canada, Order of British Columbia — but we don’t do bowing and scraping or raising people above others with titles: sir this, lord that, lady so-and-so.
However, if you look at how we treat our poor — and some of the hungry high school students in Maple Ridge Secondary would qualify as an example — then we clearly have two classes of persons in Canada: the poor and the rest of society.
Much to her credit it’s what brings tears to the eyes of special education teacher, Ellen Stover.
“I’m sorry to be so emotional,” she says. “It’s just when I think of some of these kids how they live and all their issues … they live in some pretty crappy situations because if you live in a home that’s poor your parents probably don’t treat you very well and there’s a lot of stress and tension there.”
That might explain some tears but the frustration and worry of not being able to help these students as much as she wants might account for the rest.
Stover has been trying to feed between 20 to 30 impoverished students a lunch every day on dwindling resources. Donations have dried up, donors and a service club that once helped feed these children have taken their money and interest elsewhere.
And the fundraising that was once done by staff at their annual beer and burger night was too inadequate anyway to cover the costs of feeding them lunch all year.
“It was a lot of effort for not very much money.”
So now, until she runs out of money, she’s down to being only able to buy them a $2 meal — no juice because that costs 50 cents and had to be slashed — in the cafeteria where students with $5 can buy a substantial meal.
This is not a unique situation, this dichotomy will be found in other schools across the province.
Students who regularly come to school hungry with no money or food are put into the school’s NET program (Nutrition and Education for Teens).
“We are careful who we select. It’s not open to everybody. The cafeteria provides them meals at cost,” Stover says.
In the cafeteria the NET students either whisper a discreet “NET please” to the server at lunch or the staff will recognize and serve them.
Either way they are only allowed to have either a meat sandwich, or a soup, or a salad, but not all three and not a main course like the other kids which could be chicken cacciatore with rice pilaf one day, or, roast beef au jus, mashed potatoes Yorkshire pudding and local vegetables, on another, to quote the menu.
“No they can’t get everything but at least it’s something,” she says.
“You are not getting a burger or the main meal which would be bigger. But the soup is good, much better than the noodle soup which a lot of these kids would be eating.”
Stover would obviously like to do more.
The school is in an area of nice homes and comfortable families with good incomes but the area also has many impoverished families.
Principal Trevor Connor described it as wealthy in places but with a large population of families struggling with poverty.
“It’s similar to Newton in Surrey,” he says.
The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School initiative (AAS) already supports a breakfast program for hungry students in the school.
“That fills a big gap and we are grateful but it’s only twice a week,” says Stover.
She had applied to AAS for $10,000 to keep the lunch program afloat.
However, upon learning of the situation The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board, which controls AAS, said it would seek to raise $15,000 for the program — the increase being used to buy NET students a full meal at least once a week.
“That would be great if we could do it. I know the kids would really appreciate it,” says Stover.
“If we feed someone it shows we care about them — it’s fundamental. The most important thing for kids is to feel somebody cares.
“Food is caring, it really is.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)