Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund-operated program designed to alleviate the suffering of children arriving at school hungry or in need of such things as adequate clothes.
The best way to understand the misery thousands of impoverished children and families are experiencing due to a cost-of-living crisis is to lift quotes from some of the 170 applications seeking help from the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund this year.
The fund operates the Adopt-a-School program designed to alleviate the suffering of children arriving at school hungry or in need of such things as adequate clothes.
Here are some observations from teachers:
“Life has become unbearably expensive for families with children and many are having to choose between paying rent over groceries …”
“Students have demonstrated a tremendous need to access more food. (They) rely on us for breakfast, snacks, lunch and take-home meals. What brings students to school is food. What keeps them at school is food …”
“It is becoming more apparent that families in our school are struggling to buy food. This is something new for our community …”
“Our local food banks cannot keep up with the extremely high demands …”
“The meals we prepare are an essential part of our program. Often this is the only meal students have in a day and they have begun to depend on our meal program to meet their nutritional needs. We don’t know how we would meet these needs without the ongoing support of Adopt-a-School …”
“We have noticed a steady stream of youth coming in this year looking for food … (and) with food prices soaring the need has grown and families are hoping their kids will get food at school …”
“More of our families than ever before face dire economic straits … by mid-September it was already evident that our current resources would be inadequate to meet the needs of our students …”
And this from a school seeking help for food, family emergencies and some field trips:
“Most of our children’s families are living well below the poverty line. We currently have a brand new mom and this little family needs a village. Flat out her most basic needs are not being met and now she has a little one to nurture and raise while essentially raising herself.
“We recently took her and the baby to the pumpkin patch where she lost her (baby’s) change pad and broke down. It was the only one she had and she only has one sheet so if she changes the baby on her bed and it soaks through she is stuck. She is trying very hard to keep things sanitary.
“The young girl deserves sheets. She is post delivery and needs opportunities to feel like she is worth it.”
What these comments have in common is the sense of desperation transmitted to teachers from families existing on social assistance or with minimum-wage or low-paying jobs.
The escalating cost of rent and global inflation resulting in an unprecedented increase in the price of food and gas is forcing poverty on many families that not too long ago were managing.
This fall the provincial government announced the Student and Family Affordability Fund: $60 million in grants to school districts to help them feed and provide school supplies, field trips and other services to needy students.
However, it is a one-time grant. If school districts use a portion of this money to set up food programs, they will have to be disbanded in June 2023, in the absence of further funding.
And what happens then? An expectation has been created. Children can’t be fed at school one year, then denied food the next.
Since the Adopt-A-School program began 11 years ago, the parent Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund has argued that the only way to deal with children arriving at school hungry and without food for the rest of the day is to follow the example of other countries and create a program to feed them.
Canada has the world’s seventh largest economy and yet of the 37 countries that form the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is the only one that doesn’t have some form of national program to feed hungry children at school.
It’s inconceivable there is any politician, school trustee, principal, teacher, school social worker, janitor or fair-minded Vancouver Sun reader who would think it is fine for children to arrive at school hungry and be left in that condition all day.
Sympathy, unfortunately, is calorie-free. The problem needs serious money — not handwringing, promises or programs with an expiry date.
The United States and Britain, which already have national food programs for impoverished children, are considering doing more.
This month the state of Colorado will vote on providing universal free breakfast and lunch to all students which, if approved, will follow the adoption of similar programs in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Vermont.
Great Britain provides lunch to needy children, but the government has created a $310-million program to feed these children during school holidays to prevent them going hungry. The opposition Labour Party is proposing to add a free universal breakfast program if elected.
Nothing is proposed in Canada.
So here we are. Schools are asking the Adopt-A-School program for $2 million this year.
Since the program began in 2011, more than $9.5 million has been distributed to hundreds of schools mainly for food, clothing and emergencies such as what is needed to assist that teenage mother and her baby mentioned earlier. Emergency funds have assisted thousands of children and families who have found themselves in dire straits.
Harold Munro, editor-in-chief of the Vancouver Sun and Province and chair of the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, is appealing once again to readers to help these families.
“These applications show the severity of the crisis that affects everyone, but none more than those struggling on social assistance or minimum-wage jobs,” said Munro.
“We have been helping schools deal with hunger and privation since 2011. That it is worse now than ever can be seen by the requests we are receiving.
“Your generosity has carried us through before and we have never failed to help any school feed its children. And I am asking for that help again.
“I leave you with these comments from recipients of grants last year contained in this year’s applications. The comments came to us, but they really belong to our readers:
“ ‘Last year’s grant helped get kids off the street and across the graduation stage. We will be forever grateful.’ ”
“ ’Your unbelievable contribution to our school — when we most needed it — helped beyond measure.’ ”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)