When Sarah McKay and other members of the Surrey school district’s Wraparound Team contemplate the Christmas holiday, it’s with dread, not joy.
The team cares for 80 of the most at-risk students in the city – which has a school population of 72,000 – and another 50 or so off the side of their desks. Many are povertystricken, and Christmas is neither a happy or safetime for them.
“It really worries us,” says McKay. “We have 80 kids on our list and that’s all we can handle. But they’re struggling (with) substance use, trauma, homelessness, gang activity, prostitution.
“We work with a lot with families who struggle, but particularly over school breaks. It’s a really tough time for them.”
Schools that poor families rely on to feed their children are closed over Christmas for two weeks.
“That’s a huge loss as they depend on schools for what their children eat.”
McKay and co-workers Mandish Saran and Jon Ross said that if they had emergency funds, they could help these high-risk youth survive the holidays without resorting to crime or allowing themselves to be sexually exploited.
“A lot of it is about survival. (These young girls) don’t see it as prostitution,” said McKay. “It’s the same with any kid we see going down a dangerous road. If food isn’t accessible at least five days a week, they’re going to do what they need to survive. If it means hanging out with the wrong people or doing things for cash – that’s what they’re going to do. Sometimes it’s just for themselves, sometimes it’s for their families.”
The team has no emergency fund and is asking The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $10,000. “With that, we could reach our whole caseload and provide something,” McKay said. “I can think of 12 families immediately who would benefit. We just don’t have any money for the basics, like food, clothing, personal hygiene. Some kids do their laundry at school, so if we had money, we could take them to the laundromat or buy them gloves, mittens and socks.
“I’ve got a 17-year-old mom with a three-month-old baby who lives on her own and it’s her first Christmas alone. Her family struggles with addiction and she hasn’t got any money because she’s at school and can’t work. The school program provides formula and diapers and things, but once the school’s shut … ” Saran said she’s involved with a family of eight, six of them children, and one of whom has just turned 17 and has a baby.
“There’s a history of substance use and mental illness in the family. The kids are great kids, being raised by their grandmother, and they turn to the school for food. Now, with the Christmas holidays, what do they do?” Ross said they’ve many success stories, but they do lose kids who get involved in gangs and drugs.
“We had one kid, 17 (years old) … there were poverty issues, stresses at home. He was assassinated.”
Even small amounts of money for food and/or clothing could prevent what might otherwise be a catastrophe in a child’s life, said McKay.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)