Each morning a small, dedicated group of students arrive at Vancouver Tech on East Broadway at least 1½ hours before classes begin.
They aren’t there doing anything to advance their own academic performance – it’s more basic than that.
Many kids, it seems, are arriving at school hungry every morning – due to a variety of causes – and these students are in early so they can feed them. Vancouver school board official Jessica Land doesn’t know of anything quite like it.
“It’s pretty unique,” said Land.
“It’s a student-led initiative. They do it with adult allies to help make it happen, but I don’t know of a similar program of students feeding students like this.”
(The money for food comes from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign.)
It’s a Friday – chocolate milk day – and two 15-year-olds, Sakura Kubota and David Zhang and 14-year-old Rosemary Taylor are in the middle of a whirl of students who fill a small anteroom next to the main entrance of the venerable secondary school where breakfast is served.
They have laid out the bagels, the cream cheese, the jam, the fruit, the banana bread, the milk, the tea and juice – and because it’s Friday the cartons of chocolate milk, which soon disappear.
When the program was first discussed by students belonging to the school’s three main clubs – the Me to We Club, the leadership class and student council – they anticipated they would feed about 50 students a day.
Not even close. They’ve had 120 some days and most days it hovers around 100, but if double the demand is a strain it doesn’t show on the trio who are cheerful amid the clamour.
“I do it because I like to know we are helping the student body,” said Kubota, who with Zhang and Taylor are members of the student council.
“We are getting about 100 students every morning, so I know it’s important.”
The decision to provide breakfast came following release of the results of a four-year wellness survey of Van Tech students by UBC and Vancouver Coastal Health.
It identified hunger as a major issue.
One alarming finding was that 25 per cent of students reported that at least once a month there was no food to be found at home.
Van Tech principal Annette Vey-Chilton said the school has 1,650 students, so that finding translates into 400 students for whom food security is a concern.
“So you can see why we have 100 students in here each morning,” she said.
The decision by students in the clubs to provide breakfast was made before the end of the last school year. In June the board of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which operates Adopt-A-School, was asked if it would fund a program beginning in September for at least three years.
“How could we say no to something like this,” said Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Sun and Province, and chair of the children’s fund board.
“It’s an astonishing initiative by these students and we are delighted to be part of it,” he said.
The board approved a grant of $60,000 to the school. The money is coming from a bequest left to AAS by former Vancouver teacher Daryl Mutz.
Munro said the board felt it fitting to use the bequest to fund the Van Tech program and was encouraging students in other secondary schools where hunger was an issue to establish similar programs and apply for help.
Vey-Chilton said she was grateful for The Vancouver Sun’s support. She said there are signs the program could be improving student attendance and alertness during class and the school will monitor this.
“It was the kids’ idea. They’ve all taken food safe training on their own time, they organize the volunteer schedules, and do all this work.
“I’m so proud of them.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)