Often the only food students can depend on receiving each day is what they receive from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program that supports the school.
Many of the students attending Royal Oak Secondary alternative school have enough problems to deal with in their young lives without adding hunger.
But it’s there every day anyway to contend with their mental-health issues or their involvement with the criminal justice system or the trauma at home that has placed some of them under the care of the government.
Often the only food students can depend on receiving each day is what they receive from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School (AAS) program that supports the school.
This year the school is seeking $16,000 from AAS to feed students — sometimes their families — and provide those that need it with basic living necessities such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and clothes as some have only one set of garments that they wear week-in-week-out.
“The food program last year from Adopt-A-School was a big support for our students as well as their families. It ensured (they) had at least one, hot, healthy, home-cooked meal each day they attended school,” said teacher Rowena Chatrath.
Because rampant food inflation is crippling many impoverished families, Chatrath said the school is adding a hot breakfast along with its hot lunch and daily snacks.
To feed students over the weekend they’ll send leftover food home for them and their families.
Chatrath said lunch was often the only meal some students had all day.
“They have come to depend on our meal program for nutrition,” she said.
Alternative schools are for students who find it difficult to complete their education in traditional settings. It’s often the only chance they have to graduate. Hanging on to them, getting them into class can be difficult for their teachers.
But having food on the premises is a huge help, said Chatrath.
“It certainly brings them in,” she said. “Eleven a.m. is always the busiest time of the day here because we are making lunch.
“Many of the families are having a hard time and struggling with the cost of food. We have one youth — his older brother used to be here — and his brother called him and while they were talking he said how he missed the lasagna we made.”
Chatrath interpreted that as a sign of hunger and sent the younger brother home with some food.
Poverty is interfering with a number of students’ ability to sustain their personal hygiene and they need help with such things as mouthwash, deodorant, hair combs, shampoo and other items.
“They need them to freshen up and start the day right,” said Chatrath.
She said they would like to stock a cabinet in the student bathrooms with such items so “they don’t need to ask.”
A number of students need help with their clothing. Some arrive in school soaking wet because all they have are light coats suitable for the summer but useless for the winter.
“We are hoping that this year we can help them with clothing. The students going for job interviews don’t have proper clothes. The guys don’t have shirts with collars. We just need to be able to help them with more formal wear.”
Chatrath said she would love to be able to give them something new to wear instead of recycled clothes.
“It would make such a big difference for them.”
The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, which administers AAS, has over 170 requests from schools totalling $2 million — the majority for help in feeding students coming to school hungry and in need of food to get them through the day.
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)