“A lot of money is allocated to support programs here but there are a few … loopholes where some families aren’t receiving proper food or clothing and we are unable to provide as much as they need.” — teacher Ashley Munro
Chilliwack Central Elementary is a small school in the heart of this small city’s downtown but there’s nothing insignificant about the effects poverty is having on the lives of some of the 200 children who attend here.
For families on social assistance or living on minimum wage or having low paying jobs their needs are multiple. They need food, they need clothing, they need ordinary hygiene items — they need a foothold in a world of sufficiency that gets farther away by the week as the increasing cost of food and rent is leaving them helpless.
Teacher Ashley Munro has watched it all unfold since she joined the school six years ago.
“Our needs are quite grand,” says Munro — grand being an adjective for large not wonderful. “A lot of money is allocated to support programs here but there are a few … loopholes where some families aren’t receiving proper food or clothing and we are unable to provide as much as they need.”
It’s a description of the state of affairs in every inner-city school in B.C.
Loopholes or not, those shortfalls aren’t being neglected.
Off-the-books schemes are being used to feed these families and clothe and provide for their kids whose ages range from six to 10 years.
So where does the money come from to do that?
“I apply for grants,” says Munro.
“I post on Facebook and Instagram that I’m looking for things. I receive quite a few donations from people I know, friends, family,” she says before finally admitting she’s the largest donor behind it all.
The scope of the effort is remarkable, from sending food home in children’s backpacks so families can eat — delivering it herself sometimes — to worrying about their dental and personal hygiene, and if they’re sufficiently dressed.
“Sometimes I’ll reach out to families and ask if they need further support at home for food,” she says. “We get a donation from FreshCo so I try to take what I can from there, then I’ll put together food bags. A lot of people don’t have cars so sometimes I’ll just drive the food to their homes.”
She also spends time in Costco buying snacks and searching through thrift stores for clothes and shoes.
Concerned about dental hygiene she asks her dentist every year for toothbrushes and toothpaste.
But she’s been paying out of her own pocket when those items run out and for food and shampoo, hair brushes, hair ties, socks and underwear.
One year she spent the fall knitting headbands for children to keep them warm while walking to school.
“Some of the stories here are heartbreaking and some are light and full of joy,” she says. “But we have a really big issue with routine. About half of my class needs food in the morning because they are not being fed at home. Some children haven’t slept or are working through a lot of trauma which stops them from having a restful sleep.”
Lack of sleep results in them being late and missing breakfast, so she’s planning to fill that large loophole by providing a late breakfast that would support some of the 60 children in three classes found on the upper floor of the school.
Munro has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $5,500 to buy snacks, breakfast food, utensils, a toaster, microwave and to purchase shoes, clothes and basic necessities for some of the kids.
“Winter is approaching and we have a lot of students who don’t have rain jackets or warm enough sweaters. It gets down to socks, proper shoes — a lot of them have holes in their shoes.
“We try and find donations for shoes but around this time we are very low on donations because we just keep handing things out. Yes, extra socks, shoes, mitts … winter approaching is always a hard time.
“But we all do what we can. It’s definitely a work from the heart.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)