The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program has so far this year sent more than $623,000 to 85 schools across the province to feed hungry children and ensure they are properly clothed.
Since it began in 2011 the program has raised close to $4 million to help teachers and principals struggling — with few resources — to deal with the effects of poverty in the classroom.
Many children arrive at school hungry without having breakfast and with no food to get them through the day and many are inadequately clothed for the weather, especially in the winter.
Every school which asked for help to feed and clothe children has received it.
An idea of the gulf which separates families with an income above the poverty line — from those existing below it — can be judged by a comment made by a member of Surrey’s Safe Schools team just before Christmas.
Each December London Drugs, in conjunction with AAS, sends out a truck loaded with gifts to a number of Lower Mainland schools which have a high proportion of families suffering in poverty.
When Sarah McKay was asked what the truck should bring for her families she didn’t even hesitate.
She then listed items no one with an adequate income would dream of as presents: “tooth paste, tooth brushes, soap …”
But when you have no money and are freezing with your children in a basement with the power cut because you can’t afford the utilities — as some of McKay’s families were — then toilet paper is more desirable than a new phone or a video game.
This year AAS sent $237,000 to Surrey which is the largest school district in the province.
Many poor families, driven out of Vancouver by high rents and the gentrification of East Vancouver, have settled in Surrey as have thousands of refugees — the majority of whom struggle to feed and clothe their children. “I don’t know what we would do without Adopt-a-School,” said Surrey school district business development manager Liane Ricou.
In 2011 AAS sent a total of $32,000 to provide food to eight Surrey schools.
Now more than 30 receive assistance, 22 are being helped again this year thanks to a second $100,000 donation from Lohn Foundation trustee, Jack Kowarsky, a Vancouver lawyer.
Companies such as Wesbild Holdings, the Sandhurst Group, FortisBC and Telus continued their commitment to AAS with FortisBC supporting after-school programs in two North Surrey schools located in areas experiencing major social problems while Telus helped provide technology to special needs students in Vancouver.
In Langley $15,500 was sent to provide breakfast and lunch for students at H.D. Stafford Middle school, another $7,000 (from Shaw Cable and employee Cory Mandryk) to build an outdoor eating area there. A further $2,000 was sent to install a washer and dryer in the school for impoverished families without access to laundry facilities.
A school in North Vancouver received $8,000 to buy coats for students coming to school inadequately dressed, a Chilliwack school received money to equip a sensory room for children suffering from the emotional effects of poverty. Funds were sent to help feed children on the Gulf Islands suffering from hunger and to schools on Vancouver Island.
Money was also sent to provide much needed technology for special needs student who otherwise would go without.
The Vancouver school district received $63,200 to provide iPads, Apple TVs and special learning programs for 1,500 special needs children in order to enhance their learning — $20,000 coming from Telus.
The effects of childhood poverty can be seen in all quarters of this province and yet the fact that thousands of children are arriving at school hungry every day didn’t catch the attention of any of the political parties engaged in this year’s provincial election.
This newspaper has editorially stated that childhood hunger is an issue that should be addressed as children — more than natural gas, trees or minerals in the ground — are our most precious resource. Yet every day when these thousands of children show up at school hungry it is being left to the concern of strangers to feed them.
A new government will be formed within the next month; surely this is an issue that can’t be ignored for another four years.
How bad is it?
Well, this week this newspaper received a call from teachers in Maple Ridge Secondary, a school already receiving assistance to provide breakfast.
The teachers had been fundraising among themselves to buy these children lunch.
They had run out of money. Could we help?
We can but only because of our readers and supporters.
“The response by readers to the AAS campaign was humbling,” said Harold Munro, editor of The Vancouver Sun and The Province, and chair of The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board.
“Without your generosity and support none of these 85 schools could be helped. Teachers would be left to face poverty and privation without resources to alleviate the worst of it,” he said. “On behalf of these children being helped I would sincerely like to thank everyone who donated — large or small — for their concern, compassion and commitment.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)