Poverty in remote, rural area means no access to supports

Poverty in remote, rural area means no access to supports

The rising price of fuel is a huge hit when it means you can’t afford to drive to a grocery store

Wikipedia describes this tiny speck of properties east of Prince George as a “community comprising scattered houses located at the southwest end of Eaglet Lake — east of Willow River.”

The only buildings of note are a community centre and a “combined elementary school to which children are bused” from surrounding settlements.

But that bus trip for some children living at the far reaches of those settlements is more like an odyssey as it takes 90 minutes for them to reach this one-room school, says Sarah Heppner, vice principal of Giscome Elementary.

And as school begins at 8 a.m. some leave home at 6:30 a.m.

“So when they get here we need to serve breakfast right away,” said Heppner.

With just 17 students on the books, it must qualify as one of the smallest schools in the province.

“We have kids from kindergarten to Grade 7 and I’d say 15 to 16 of those are taking breakfast every day.“

Heppner is asking The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund for $7,000 to feed her students breakfast and lunch. These meals are a necessity.

“Half the students who attend are living in poverty, below the poverty line in fact,” she said. ”We need that money to buy food for them.”

Breakfast and lunch are made by students in rotation who then serve the meals to their companions.

“We have a baking club and they bake muffins once a week and we also have sausage and eggs, and cereal and baked oatmeal. Lunch we alternate between soups, pasta and sandwiches,” said Heppner.

Living in poverty in the city is harrowing, but living in need in a remote rural settlement must be worse.

“It’s a 45 minute drive from here to Prince George, so some of our families don’t have access to the amenities and services you find in the city to help them such as food banks,” she said.

A number of families don’t have access to B.C. Gas and need to buy propane for heating or use wood to heat their homes.

“There is very little internet and for those that do have it, the connection’s unreliable. Most of the area doesn’t have cellphone coverage,” she said.

The high price of gas is isolating some families.

“Because of the distance to town, families that are dealing with food insecurity often don’t have the money to be able to afford the fuel to get to town right now.

Feeding children twice a day and sending food home “is a bit of a lifeline for them.”

She believes there are times in the month when some families have run out of money and food and the only meals their children are getting are what they receive in school.

To help those families get through the weekend, food is available to take home on Fridays.

“Loaves of bread, sandwiches, whatever we have that is extra — it’s offered to everybody.”

The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which administers the Adopt-A-School program, is attempting to raise $2 million to meet requests from more than 170 B.C. schools seeking help to feed and clothe children arriving at school hungry or inadequately dressed.

Since AAS began in 2011 more than $10 million has been sent to hundreds of schools to provide for impoverished children.


By Gerry Bellett (gbellett@gmail.com)

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