“It worked well for some time but things have got significantly worse. We have a significant increase in (students’) needs this year and less to no donated food coming in.” — Youth Worker Karin Leathwood.
Staff at Coquitlam’s alternative school Suwa’lkh Connections have been relying on donations of rescued food to feed their 30 students three meals a day — many of whom are impoverished and show up hungry.
The food arrives in various states. Some able to be used like the near expired yogurt and fruit that are turned into breakfast smoothies — some only good for compost, says Youth Worker Karin Leathwood.
“We just look around in the morning and see what we’ve got. We cook what comes in. If it’s a block of cheese, it’s macaroni and cheese, if it’s eggs we do omelettes. All rescue food.”
That was the system until September.
“It worked well for some time but things have got significantly worse,” said Leathwood. “We have a significant increase in (students’) needs this year and less to no donated food coming in.
“Our families are deeply impacted by inflation, the pandemic and the ridiculous price of food, gas and housing.
“Most of our children’s families are living well below the poverty line. We’ve now got families asking for food. We used to send it home when we had it but parents are now calling,” she said.
“I just made a hot egg sandwich for a student this morning. Most kids would just throw it away if they didn’t finish it. But she asked if I could wrap it up so she could eat it later.
“We send food home and a lot of kids would say ‘I’m not carrying that old food.’ No problem even if it’s no longer on the grocery store shelves they’ll just take it home with gratitude.”
“For many of these families it’s basic needs, their wants are not even a factor — it’s just basic needs.”
Suwa’lkh Connections is for late Grade 7 to Grade 10 students who have difficulty managing in regular school.
Apart from food there are students that need clothes to replace the garments they wear every day and new shoes.
“One girl came in with a pair of bright yellow shoes and they are a good two sizes too big. She’s not wearing her regular shoes because they have holes in the bottom and it was raining.
“There’s a boy wearing the same shoes he had in June and they had a hole in them then.”
The school is asking for a $14,000 grant from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School (AAS) program so it can provide food, clothing and other needs to its students.
With money staff will be able to provide fresh food and a more balanced diet and provide some basic necessities.
“Many of our students have said that when they were having a hard day they didn’t want to come to school but they were hungry,” Leathwood said.
“We have kids showing up from far across the school district on their own, using multiple buses after experiencing little success or poor attendance at previous schools.
“And that’s the most basic and honest way we can measure success. Kids show up and we feed and nurture their bodies and their minds. It sounds kind of simple but it’s not.”
The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund which administers AAS has 170 requests from schools across the province totalling $2 million to provide for the needs of children arriving at school hungry or in worn out clothes and shoes.
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)