Vancouver Sun charity marks 10th year of helping schoolkids

Vancouver Sun charity marks 10th year of helping schoolkids

Before the pandemic of 2019, approximately one in five of this province’s children lived below the poverty line. Almost two years into this crisis there is every sign that poverty has captured even more children and families.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign, which since 2011 has distributed about $8 million to schools to feed and clothe hungry and impoverished children.

Before the pandemic of 2019, approximately one in five of this province’s children lived below the poverty line. Almost two years into this crisis there is every sign that poverty has captured even more children and families.

Federal statisticians will eventually confirm the anecdotal observations of teachers and principals that have been made to The Sun this fall — that the pandemic has thrown many families (who were once coping) into poverty.

Schools from Kitsilano to Kitimat are finding the demands to help these children have outstripped what few, if any, resources they might have had to intervene.

“We are feeding up to 70 students daily. The numbers keep growing. … We do have some money available, but it’s not enough to cover the food we need,” writes a vice-principal from Terrace.

Another from the fire-ravaged Okanagan says that on top of the miseries of the pandemic, this year’s wildfires displaced many families and has led to an increase in vulnerable students seeking help.

All this must be placed in the context that Canada — alone among the world’s leading economic nations — does not have a national or dedicated provincial system to feed children arriving at school hungry due to poverty at home. (The United States has a number of programs to feed children at school, and spends an estimated $18 billion a year doing so.)

In B.C., the provincial CommunityLink program provides money to the province’s 60 school districts to support academic achievements and social functioning of vulnerable students. But whatever is being allocated to feed impoverished children is woefully inadequate and amounts to first aid when a field hospital is needed.

Since 2011, Adopt-A-School funds have helped hundreds of schools in B.C. and fed tens of thousands of children providing what must amount to millions of individual meals. Money has also been given to teachers to clothe children and, in cases of dire need, alleviate emergencies such as a lack of food at home or the need to pay for a prescription for a sick child — situations that will bring poor families to despair.

This help is often the last resource for many families struggling to pay rent and feed themselves in a world where rents are exorbitant and wildly accelerating food costs are squeezing every family’s budget. Except, for the poor, that squeezing inevitably spells hunger.

One Vancouver teacher recently received a text from a mother with five children asking for help because they were only eating one meal a day.

This year, there have been 184 requests to the Adopt-A-School program, seeking a total of $1.9 million in aid — a 46-per-cent increase in requests over last year.

“It is our tenth anniversary, and to be honest we hoped we would not be doing this by now,” said Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun and Province and chair of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund board, which administers Adopt-A-School.

“The newspaper’s editorial position is that the issue of ensuring hungry children are fed at school is the responsibility of our national and provincial governments,” said Munro.

“But until they rise to the occasion, we must continue to do our best and help schools and teachers deal with what poverty brings to the school door in the form of hungry children often without clothes adequate for the weather, with shoes either too big or too small and with holes in them, or, dressed in the same set of clothes they have worn for months without change.

“In the course of our Adopt-A-School reporting, we have interviewed many teachers who despair at what they are seeing.”

A principal in the East Kootenays — where winters are harsh — described seeing children come into school with wet feet after walking through a foot of snow in sneakers. Elsewhere, teachers are reduced to tears at the condition of some students and have spent their own money buying food or clothes.

“This year, we know of two educators (a Langley principal and an Indigenous worker in Vancouver) whose selfless efforts to help their impoverished students represent all that is best and noble in their profession,” Munro continued.

“But teachers and principals can’t be left to deal with this alone. It is why I am appealing once again to our readers to help us raise the money we need to assist these children. The poor have little voice, poor children have none. The only voice they have is that of their teachers speaking for them through us.

“I would ask everyone who cares, please listen.”

This will be the first campaign without the much-beloved Shelley Fralic, a wonderful journalist, a co-founder of Adopt-A-School, and a board member of the children’s fund. Fralic died earlier this year.

“Whatever success we have had feeding and clothing children, Shelley played an indispensable part,” Munro explained. “It is a great loss to all of us. It seems inconceivable that we are going into another campaign without her.”

By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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