Grants target student hunger in Surrey schools
For Manjot Badesha, it was only a matter of time before the emotional toll of it all kicked in.
The family outreach worker at Hjorth Road Elementary, an inner city school in North Surrey, was describing the daily efforts the staff are making to alleviate the suffering of some children arriving at school hungry and in sweat shirts instead of coats, in sneakers instead of boots.
“It’s starting to get colder and it’s wet and they need jackets and warm boots. The other day, I had a student come into breakfast and I said, ‘There’s a bunch of holes in your sneakers, bud,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but they are the only ones I’ve got,’” she said.
The school is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign for $2,500 to ensure that emergency help is available for families without food or proper clothes for their children.
But when Badesha was contemplating the weight that some of her families trapped by poverty are carrying — lack of food, inability to clothe their children, inability to meet any unforeseen expense, uncertainty and stress from COVID — it just overwhelmed her.
There was a stifled: “I’m sorry, I get so choked up just thinking about our children and their families.”
It’s hardly surprising, given what she sees.
The school is one of the 23 Surrey schools that are high enough on the poverty scale to qualify for the school district’s Attendance Matters program, which provides breakfast and lunch to more than 900 impoverished children a day.
This is the school district’s main effort to deal with daily hunger and to get impoverished children into school.
Surrey is asking Adopt-A-School this year for $100,000 it needs to pay for the food.
So how hungry are some children?
It’s not too hard to quantify. All it takes is for a well-fed person to imagine how it would feel going over 20 hours each day without eating — like some of the children attending Hjorth Road Elementary.
About 30 children come in early for breakfast, says Badesha. They receive a snack at recess, then are given lunch at noon.
And for some, that’s all the food they will receive that day.
When lunch is finished, they won’t eat again until they arrive for breakfast at 8:30 a.m. the following day — an enforced fast of over 20 hours.
“Breakfast may be their only meal since lunch the day before,” she said. “That’s why we need more support for a lot of our families. Many of them are low-income or refugee families who are trying to make ends meet, and that means, maybe, deciding between paying rent and having shelter, or having food on their plates.
“For these families, to know the school will feed their children is a blessing. The other day, I had one parent who said it was saving their lives.”
Badesha said having access to an emergency fund would allow the school to buy clothes and supply gift cards so children could have dinner at home and be fed on weekends.
“It would make a huge difference to us.”
Recently, a parent’s car broke down in the school parking lot and staff pushed it to the side. Badesha used her BCAA membership to have it towed to a family friend’s home.
“I stayed with her waiting for the tow. She told me she doesn’t have any money to repair the car. Her choice right now is food and shelter and providing for her kids.
“She had finally found a job after being laid off due to COVID, but it’s seasonal and she is worried with the (pandemic) restrictions she’s going to lose a job again.
“And to know we could use that emergency money to help that mum — who’s a single parent — that we can say, ‘We’ve got this,’ and that she’s going to be okay. It’s huge.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)