Sidoo family helps hungry students at Gladstone Secondary

Sidoo family helps hungry students at Gladstone Secondary

The school district estimates poverty makes 10 per cent of the school population vulnerable and the most obvious signs are students arriving at school hungry and in need of nourishment.

There are 935 students in Chris Parker’s care and each has the right to a tug on his attention.

But the Gladstone Secondary principal has a folder on his desk representing 10 per cent of his Vancouver Eastside school that are entitled to a lot more than that.

“When I look at these Lunch Smart applications (they are from families asking for financial assistance to pay for their children’s lunch) it’s easy to see the need we have,” he said.

The folder is stuffed with school district forms completed by 85 parents having to prove they are unable to pay for a cafeteria lunch for their children.

And it is this that convinced Parker he had to act.

“We know these students need food during the day. Lunch isn’t enough. They come to school hungry and they can’t wait for lunch,” he said.

Parker applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign for $10,000 to feed breakfast to these — and many others — arriving at school hungry each morning.

“We need to give them breakfast. If we want them to learn they have to be fed.”

On Tuesday Jordan Sidoo and his brother, Dylan, came to the school with a $10,000 donation from their family’s charitable foundation to get the breakfast program up and running.

“We really want to help this school,” said Jordan, 22, who works for the San Francisco 49ers as an in-game analyst and is home for Christmas with his family.

Dylan, 25, is the co-founder of an encrypted messaging software company in Vancouver.

“Our focus is on helping kids in need and people who are homeless,” said Dylan.

The brothers have also donated $10,000 to an affordable housing program for the homeless and will be out on the streets of the Downtown Eastside handing out blankets and other help to homeless persons.

Their family has supported AAS since the program began.

The breakfast at Gladstone will be modest — toasted bagels, with jam and peanut butter, and fresh fruit. Parker has received two double toasters, a toaster oven and an microwave from London Drugs which donated the equipment to the school as part of its support of AAS.

He is hoping the prospect of food will attract some students with attendance problems or who regularly arrive at class late.

“Some of these students, whose lives are unpredictable, often have trouble getting here first thing in the morning. Hopefully breakfast will help.”

“We don’t quantify categories of need — which families are terribly in need, which are just needy — so we won’t know how many students will come for breakfast but it could be 100 or more,” he said.

Another indicator of daylong hunger is the attraction of students to a lounge used by a district special education program which has its own supply of food and snacks.

Students — not in the program — are so hungry they often gravitate to the lounge to find something to eat.

“The staff always ensure there’s enough food for the 45 kids in the program but there’s any number of others wandering by there to get food.”

However, the program doesn’t have the resources to feed many extra mouths, he said, and he might have to provide snacks during the day for the outsiders who go there to eat.

Another indication that families need help feeding their children can be found in the number of parents who haven’t paid school fees.

“It’s not that they have forgotten or not got around to it. They don’t have the money.”

The school district estimates poverty makes 10 per cent of the school population vulnerable and the most obvious signs are students arriving at school hungry and in need of nourishment.

A recent vulnerability study by University of B.C. shows an even worse picture of poverty in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage district where the school is located.

This study found the area falls below the district average for students thriving with 34 per cent reporting poor nutrition and sleep problems.

Parker said tiredness often affects a student’s behaviour

“Some of them come in cold and haven’t had proper sleep. They are not going to be learning in those conditions and they will have behavioural issues which is typical for kids who haven’t slept or eaten properly.

“Those are the triggers for the behaviour and someone will tell you ‘we didn’t have heat and you are talking to me about this (indiscipline) as a problem — that’s just a small thing.’”

Parker said: “We do what we can when we hear things like this. If I can go to London Drugs and buy them a $20 heater or an alarm clock so they will know what time it is, I’ll do it.

“But a lot of these stories (about the way students are living) stay underground until something else triggers them.”

Now he has the money, he will begin the program after Christmas.

“There’s nothing to prevent us starting up. I am really grateful for the help.”

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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