“We estimate close to 200 (children) need some form of assistance from the school, whether food or school supplies.” — Springwood Elementary Child and Youth Care worker Dannika McAllister
PARKSVILLE — There are fewer more pleasant communities to live in than this small municipality on the east coast of Vancouver Island with its temperate weather, sandy beaches and the sort of natural beauty that brings tourists flocking in.
It seems bucolic and it is. But like every other community in B.C. Parksville is not immune to the hardship being inflicted on impoverished families by a crushing cost of living crisis.
And as in much larger cities, the effects can be seen each morning when children arrive at school hungry and without food to get through the day.
Springwood Elementary has 500 students and Child and Youth Care worker Dannika McAllister estimates there are a substantial number whose families are having difficulties with the rising cost of food and housing.
“We estimate close to 200 (children) need some form of assistance from the school, whether food or school supplies. Food seems to be the main source of concern for a large portion of our families and our school is unable to keep up with the requests for breakfast, lunch and snacks,” she said.
McAllister — new to the school this year — was asked to set up a breakfast program to feed the most needy. Some 50 children were identified and invited to participate.
She was given a budget of $40 a week and set off attempting to feed them each day (most days only 20 show up) which, frankly, is impossible.
Her plan was to try and find grants or other sources of food to supplement what $40 buys these days as the first two weeks of trying to run the program proved “unbearable.”
A charity that helps the homeless and impoverished in the area pitched in and she received cereal and other food but by the end of October that help dried up.
“I reached out because we hadn’t received anything recently but they are tight for donations, too, so they were not able to give us anything.”
She has applied to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $6,000 to buy food and a fridge as she wants to open the program to any child who needs a breakfast.
“Right now it’s invitation-only,” she said.
“But we’re not going to deny a kid that comes in — that’s half my battle — I won’t say no.”
“And we don’t want to say no but last week for example I had kids asking for seconds and we don’t have the funds to give them seconds and make it through the week.”
There are other sources of food in the school. There’s a food class which produces some meals and the school secretary provides microwave lunches for those who have nothing to eat.
And there’s also a supply of snacks available.
But she wants to give hungry children a proper breakfast — pancakes, bacon and eggs — something “more substantial than the little quick meals we have now but, unfortunately, all we can afford.”
She estimates about 50 children come to school without breakfast and with no food to see them through the day.
“They will have absolutely nothing in their bag. It really is disheartening to see. It’s upsetting thinking what these families must be going through having to live like this.”
Since 2011 The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund has distributed more than $10 million to hundreds of schools in B.C. to feed and clothe children. This year schools are seeking more than $2 million in grants to help impoverished children.
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)