It was -2 C outside, the snow was falling and Jaiminder Kang was thankful that The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund had made it possible for her Surrey school to have a collection of new boots, mitts, scarves and toques on-hand.
Without them, children whose families are struggling to pay the rent and find enough money to eat and clothe themselves would be left to face the winter inadequately dressed including the child who didn’t have a winter coat.
“They would be coming to school in old sneakers which don’t have any warmth and are not waterproof,” said Kang, principal of James Ardiel Elementary. “Sometimes we see them wearing their dad’s oversized mitts — their parents are trying every way they can … but if we can help, let’s just do it. It’s really amazing to see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they pick their new mitts or toques and boots.
“And it was nice to see that child who needed a coat all bundled up and warm in the snow because we were able to buy her one.”
Last year the school, which is in a low-income area of the city, received $4,500 in emergency funds from The Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) campaign and is seeking a similar amount for this school year.
The fund is used to help families deal with emergencies such as running out of money and food during the month or when they don’t have money for their children’s clothing or bus fares.
A fifth of the school’s 420 families are defined as low income, about a third are single parent families and 45 per cent speak a language other than English at home as the school has many new Canadian and refugee families.
Some of them are being overwhelmed by a cost-of-living crisis as can be seen by the number of children arriving at school hungry each morning.
“Our families are feeling the impact of inflation and some are unable to make ends meet. They are making sure the rent and bills are paid but after that are having difficulty taking care of their basic needs — food, clothing, hygiene products,” she said.
Kang sees the stress of this on the faces of her students.
“I’ve noticed the impact on the kids whose families need food support. They feel the tension and worry of their parents. The (AAS) money is critical to support our families — these funds really matter,” she said.
The school is part of the school district’s Attendance Matters program that provides breakfast for hungry children who, without the prospect of food, might otherwise be skipping school. AAS has provided money to support this program since 2011 and this year is being asked to raise $100,000 to feed more than 700 children.
It’s for all the reasons above that Vancouver lawyer Jack Kowarsky continues to support AAS. Kowarsky is a director of the Lohn Foundation, which has contributed $550,000 to AAS since 2015.
“My interest is in the well-being of children arriving at school hungry,” said Kowarsky, 83, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Poland on the eve of the Second World War and whose family came to Canada as refugees when the conflict ended.
“Education is the key to helping children advance in life. I know that from my own experience. Children are our most important asset and we have to do all we can to help them learn and prosper in school. And everyone knows that a hungry child can’t learn,” he said.
This year AAS has received more than 170 requests totalling almost $2 million from schools seeking to feed and clothe impoverished children and to help families that are unable to adequately provide for them.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)