As many as 63 children and parents arrive at Langley’s Douglas Park Elementary looking to be fed every morning, coming in as early as 7 a.m.
It’s still dark when the first of the families come in to the warmth of the portable parked at the entrance to Douglas Park Elementary in central Langley.
This school on 206th St. is surrounded on all sides by blocks of social housing and low rent apartments.
Given that poor families are struggling to pay rent and eat these days, it doesn’t take a sociologist to explain why as many as 63 children and parents can arrive here looking to be fed, in the morning — some coming in at 7 a.m.
“We have a high number of low income learners,” says Brad Hendy, Langley community school coordinator.
“We have a large population of immigrant families and refugees who have moved here because the rents are lower.”
Syrian refugees — the mothers in their head scarfs — are easily identifiable, others are from violent areas in Africa, some from Myanmar, and they take their breakfasts and sit down on the portable tables arranged in rows.
Retired teacher Annemieke Vrijmoed, one of the volunteers serving breakfast, was there to welcome the early arrivals.
“Some parents have to go to work early so they drop their children off here because it’s safe and they don’t have to leave them at home or on the street,” said Vrijmoed.
“For these families it’s very important we are here for them. A lot are financially stretched and they want their children to eat.”
Often parents and younger children will eat too.
“They need feeding as well. Anyone who comes in the door is welcome to eat,” said Hendy who has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $8,000 to feed breakfast and lunch to impoverished children attending this school.
There are plenty of volunteers wanting to help but money is needed to ensure there is sufficient food.
This breakfast program is supported by the Langley Soroptimist society — a group dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls — using gaming industry grants given to the society.
“They have supported this program for a long time and their contribution has been amazing,” he said.
However, the grants vary from year to year and the breakfast program needs funding stability as does lunch.
The lunch for 20 of the neediest children is being provided by the congregation of Westwinds Community Church located on 176 Street in nearby Surrey.
The cost of lunch was taxing the resources of the small congregation, said Hendy.
“The school needs help to keep that program sustainable so it’s not entirely on the back of the church,” he said.
At first it was bread and jam and Cheese Whiz sandwiches but then the congregation realized they needed to provide more nutritious lunches and the cost has risen accordingly.
“$6,000 is a lot of money for them,” he said.
“Some of these kids are coming to school with a bag of popcorn for lunch or a single granola bar. Some with nothing at all,”
Michelle Davis — wife of Westwinds’ Pastor Mark Davis — said the church began helping the school eight years ago providing groceries for lunch.
The church’s involvement peaked a year ago when they replaced the Cheez Whiz and jam with proper meals including salads.
The effect was dramatic, “Until then the lunches weren’t great,” Davis admitted.
“But afterwards we had teachers coming up to us in tears because the kids were now eating vegetables and something nutritious. It says a lot about what’s going on when feeding children brings tears to people’s eyes.”
She and a group of volunteers — among the unsung heroes trying to feed economically disadvantaged children in this province — meet two mornings a week in the church to prepare over 100 lunches.
“We just love doing it. We have a program where people can sponsor a child for $50 a month. All the money goes to feeding them,” she said.
Davis was concerned that what she says about the issue should not offend the dignity of parents who were struggling financially or that her comments be taken as negative towards the school, its children or parents because they were wonderful.
But the level of poverty in some families was apparent to her daughter, a Trinity Western linguistics student, who volunteered one day to take children to a grocery store with a teacher.
“These were kids born in Canada but some of them didn’t know what a pear was or what it was called,” she said.
Some years ago she saw firsthand what poverty in the classroom looks like.
“It was my son’s kindergarten class. There was a girl who didn’t like the pizza she’d been given and she tossed it in the garbage.
“There was a little boy who waited until he thought no one was looking and he reached into the garbage and grabbed the pizza out and ate it.
“People should know there are children in schools quietly going hungry. For years we made sure that boy was fed and clothed.
“And that’s something everyone can do.”