The poor could give seminars on the gaps in their lives.
The gaps without food, without money, without bare necessities – if they have plenty of anything, it’s gaps.
So it’s fitting that when Tracey MacKinlay and Pam Bragagnolo stepped up to help impoverished families at east Vancouver’s Queen Alexandra Elementary, they came to fill in some of those gaps.
The gaps are largest on weekends when school is closed or during holidays because that is when families who rely on schools to feed their children are on their own.
“Filling those gaps is our focus. We concentrate on providing nutritious healthy meals and snacks,” said MacKinlay.
Queen Alexandra is a school that needs all the help it can get, as a proportion of its 190 children exist in poverty.
It has its own free store available to families, containing nonperishable food and other items – provided by a donation from the Vancouver and District Labour Council.
Some families also receive food hampers from the Backpack Buddies program twice a month, which provides enough food to last a weekend.
That leaves a gap of two weekends a month that MacKinlay and Bragagnolo want to fill with the help of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program.
The school is applying for $12,000, of which almost half is designated to provide 25 families with food packs sufficient to feed six people.
The remainder will be used for filling a variety of other missing necessities, including clothing.
Last week, they were in the school’s Wishing Tree food store filling containers with all the ingredients to make Thai green curry chicken with rice, which included instructions and photos on how to prepare the meal.
Every meal pack will follow this pattern – $25 worth of ingredients with a recipe.
So far, they have been using money donated from a sister school, Queen Mary Elementary in Point Grey, to produce the food packs, but that will run out in January.
“If we get help from Adopt-A-School, we can do this every two weeks until school finishes. We are trying to work with stores that will give us a volume discount. If we get (money from the program), we can do more,” said MacKinlay.
In January, they want to start a cooking program to teach children, their siblings and parents how to cook with simple ingredients using fresh produce funded by the Adopt-A-School program.
Teaching elementary schoolchildren how to cook is helpful because, in some cases, parents might be working and are not there to cook meals.
They also want to provide afterschool snacks to children who are not getting enough nutrition at home, said Bragagnolo – nuts, seeds, fruit, yogurt, cheese, tuna snacks, hummus, and granola bars.
Clothing is another gap. The school needs an emergency fund to buy clothes and footwear for children without adequate winter coats or boots, or who are wearing clothes too small.
Principal Megan Davies said they have clothing drives, but this often results in receiving clothes that are not suitable. “We’d like to be able to purchase exactly what a child needs,” she said.
It was the realization that families in Vancouver were suffering in poverty that brought Bragagnolo and MacKinlay to the school.
“We are in a book club and were talking about it one night, and we just thought we must do something,” said MacKinlay.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)