Relief is on the way from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School Covid-19 fund to teachers and administrators scrambling to provide food and help to impoverished families.
On Thursday, $129,000 was sent out to cover the first batch of applications for help that will go to families in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, Nanaimo and Courtenay.
Schools were supposed to reopen on Monday following spring break but have been closed indefinitely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many impoverished families rely on schools to feed their children and are facing the real prospect of hunger unless some way is devised to get them food. The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board, which administers Adopt-A-School (AAS), last week appealed to the public for help to feed and provide necessities to these families.
This year AAS has sent out almost $900,000 to schools across the province to feed and clothe needy children in school but that program can’t continue with schools shut down. Given this, the board liquidated $100,000 from an emergency fund to kickstart a campaign to feed children and families in their homes and by Thursday $115,000 in donations from the public had been received.
Some school districts are planning to distribute grocery vouchers to needy families, others are choosing to distribute food hampers.
A typical request for help came from teacher Heidi Jungwirth of Courtenay Elementary school.
“We have many vulnerable families and many wage earners have lost jobs. We need to purchase gift cards to be distributed to them,” wrote Jungwirth. “The food bank across the road from the school (on McPhee Ave.) is closed and this has hit some families hard. We will put gift cards in their mailboxes so as to maintain social distancing.”
Jung wirth said she didn’t know how much to ask for but asked for $2,000.
“I realize this is a big ask,” she apologized.
The board disagreed and sent her $5,000.
Similar concerns about what the loss of access to school meals combined with an unexpected job loss because of the pandemic would do to the poor, came from Karyn Bell, executive director of the Kateslem Youth Society. This society manages the emergency food program financed by AAS in 12 schools in the Coquitlam Tri-Cities area.
“More and more of our (low income) families are finding it difficult to feed themselves due to reduced hours or job loss … they are not able to leave home, have a fear of using public transit or are unable to afford public transit,” to get food, she said.
“We are seeing a huge increase in need. For instance we have one family — refugees from Africa — six people, no money, no food.”
The board has approved sending $15,000, which Bell will use to buy groceries and have them delivered to the homes of impoverished families.
“Losing a minimum wage job can be detrimental to the survival of families,” she said.
Other organizations are mobilizing to head off what could be a disaster for impoverished families if sufficient food doesn’t get to them during this emergency.
At the RayCam Community Centre on East Hastings staff are concerned that families stay in the neighbourhood and not go travelling to high risk areas in the Downtown Eastside looking for food, said Carin Rahmberg, childcare and family programmer.
The centre is receiving $15,000 from AAS to create a store in the centre that will supply food, diapers and baby food to families using a non-contact drop-off system.
“We are in uncharted waters,” said Rahmberg. “And we’re brainstorming what the program will look like.”
Backpack Buddies, which dispenses weekend supplies of food for needy families, is putting 50 per cent more food in their hampers, said founder Joanne Griffiths.
Their next delivery is set for Friday, April 3.
Normally food is dropped off at various schools in the Lower Mainland and Victoria but with the schools closed distribution will have to be from the back of a delivery truck parked outside the school, she said.
“Teachers are going to inform families when they can come and pick it up.”
CIBC Wood Gundy (Bentall) is donating $99,000 to the Vancouver school board to feed the most needy children while schools are closed.
“We feel passionately about reducing the anxiety around where Vancouver children will get their next meal,” said Jeff Watchorn, CIBC Wood Gundy vice-president.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)